The coming challenge

I want to argue that increasingly, discrimination is most pervasive at the economic striae. The big critique as far as bias went was that people were discriminated against based on a: colour b: ethnicity c: sexual orientation d: disability, e:sexuality, among other things.

While these are still all too persistent, I think the coming challenge for discrimination law will be discrimination that is due to differences in economic means. If we look at one bastion of elite Canadians, Massey College, for example, there are numerous WASP faces, mostly Canadian born, but with more representation from around the world, and from visible minorities. Unfortunately, the disabled are poorly represented at Massey, perhaps due to the inaccessible design of the College (a travesty that ruins, for me, its architectural merits in other areas).

However, suppose we were to do a demographic analysis on the Junior Fellows. I think the big correlation would be seen not between skin colour, or place of birth, but rather by parental status and income. I’d wager that most of the Masseyites are those whose parents supported them lovingly and with plenty of income, trips to Disneyland, cruises, etc.

This hurts the College because we are losing voices from other perspectives. And the sad part is often those voices don’t even make it as far as the University. The thing about economic discrimination is that it is silent, and hard to distinguish — products of a society that values economic status above (nearly) all else.

And we’re not really talking about British-style classism here. In Canada, I certainly don’t get the overwhelming sense that there is “new money” and “old money”. No, the split is between those who have a moderate income (often only 60,000$ or more) and those who have less. At some certain threshold, people cannot easily escape the bind of providing food and shelter for their family. Some don’t wish to, but others, who may want to, just can’t stop their current work and seek new opportunities. How can you start a business with no initial capital?

How can Massey, the University of Toronto, and society as a whole do better to make these voices (the single parent, poor neighborhood) better heard? Should we care?

Actually, I’m also quite concerned about sexism. I think it is very closely linked to economic discrimination. Many women in poorer countries find it impossible to survive without a man. Frankly, most countries treat women disgracefully. If we replaced the treatment of women in Pakistan, for example, with treatment of blacks, people would be outraged. Sexual slavery? Acid attacks? Forced marriages? And it’s impossible for these women to escape, because the odds are against them financially. Even in Canada, women biologically are hindered from earning as much as men. Sure, college enrollment is 60% female, but in 20 years, how many of those women will be in positions of authority versus their male counterparts? I’d say the numbers will return to the traditional superiority for men.

Published in: on November 9, 2006 at 8:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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