Ideal of Inclusivity

What does it mean for America as a society to be inclusive?

One answer, embraced by liberals, is something like the following: “In America there are the privileged and the underprivileged, which maps onto those who have power and minorities who are marginalized. For America to be inclusive means for this imbalance to be shifted, so that power is distributed more equally.”

If we look at the civil rights movement, or the women’s movement and so on, they seem like the main example of what distributing power means, and what it means for America to become more inclusive.

There is, however, one big problem with this understanding of inclusivity: it treats it as obvious who the minorities and the majority are. Normally, for liberals, the majority is seen as whites, specially white, middle class, heterosexual males, and minorities are people who don’t fit that category.

But what happens if everybody in America in some sense or another thinks, and can think, of themselves as a minority, as marginalized, as fighting the status quo? Then the picture of inclusivity as the minorities getting what the majority already has starts to break down.

This is our current situation.

On the liberal view, Trump is the proto-typical member of the privileged group: white, male, rich, heterosexual, Christian. So, on the liberal view, the election of Trump is the rise of the privileged group resisting inclusivity. This was the message of the Clinton campaign. But what Clinton and many liberals failed to note was the powerful, and I think genuine, sense in which Trump sees himself as under-privileged, as fighting the powers that be.

This is most obvious in the fact that Trump is a reality TV star, not a politician or an intellectual, or even a stately business person like Gates or Bloomberg. In Trump’s own mind, he is the outsider, fighting the system, the privileged political and media structures. Once a person identifies themselves as the under-privilaged, there is nothing that the standard liberal picture says on how to respond to them – by the very identification with, or as, the under-privileged, they become part of the rebellion, part of the oppressed fighting the oppressors.

The difference between Trump and Clinton wasn’t that Trump was in the status quo, privileged group, and that Clinton is fighting for the underdogs – that is the liberal picture, but it doesn’t fully ring true. The difference really was between two minority figures – the reality TV political outsider and the woman.

The fact that other than Trump’s political outsider status he seems very much like the old status quo is neither here nor there. For the same could be said of Hilary Clinton – that she is the female version of Bill Clinton, with all the privileges that come with that.

On the liberal picture of inclusivity, there is no ordering of minority oppression. Women, blacks, gays, handicapped, poor people – they are all minorities, who, it is assumed, have to band together to fight the privileged. Of course, it is ludicrous to try to order the difficulties of these groups. But this means that anyone who identifies as a minority can speak fully as a minority, and so, fight to protect their way of life as a minority.

This is what Trump and the alt-right have done: they fully affirm themselves as minorities, as ignored by the main stream media, higher education and politicians, and so they can, without irony and apology, fully affirm their right to have their way of life represented and continued.

Of course, Trump knows that in many ways he is privileged, and so are many of his supporters. The very idea that America is a really white country is an affirmation of such privilege. But, then again, Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama are also privileged in many ways. On the liberal picture, being under privileged doesn’t mean being so in every way, or even most ways. It means being under privileged in a salient way, even if one is otherwise privileged. This is the loop hole which enables Trump and the alt right to speak with the righteous indignation of a minority group.

Let’s step back and look at the big picture.

Suppose the liberal view of inclusivity was true. What would then the march towards an inclusive society look like? Something like this: More and more the minorities would get the opportunities the privileged have had, and then when everyone has equal amount of opportunities, full inclusivity would have been achieved.

On this vision, the privileged go from being more privileged than others to being equally privileged as others. So, for example, whites males (who are middle class, straight, etc.) go from having the deck stacked in their favor to a deck that is evenly stacked. If they are upset, it is only because they are losing their privilege – it is “white tears”, the cry of the oppressor losing their privilege.

But this overlooks the possibility that at a certain point in this historical  progression, the formerly privileged might become themselves a minority in some ways. Which is what is set to happen in a decade or two as America becomes a majority minority country. Meaning whites will then be statistically a minority. And so every person in the country can count themselves as a minority in some sense. This possibility, which is what is actually set to happen, undercuts the liberal vision that the privileged simply go from being rulers to equals, without themselves ever being minorities.

Colonialism and segregation as lawful policies are over. Structural remnants of those times very much remain, but we can no longer simply impose concepts of those structures in trying to understand our current times.

But what new concepts of inclusivity will take their place? That is the key question.

5 thoughts on “Ideal of Inclusivity

  1. Gautam

    The concept of “privilege” is inherently one that sets up a conflict, for exactly the reasons that you mention. One is that each person might legitimately view themselves as a minority … even a billionaire might view him/herself in the minority of rich people persecuted by progressive taxation. A second is that they might view the privilege as justified (e.g., a climate scientist might see his assessment of global warning as justifiably privileged over someone with no scientific background; likewise, someone who sees white Americans as justifiably privileged in that they “made America great” in the past).

    All that said, I’m not sure that inclusivity is the foundational liberal idea. The foundational idea is rule of law, where the laws are justified by appeal to universal rational principles. The modern interpretation of this is that
    1) race, sex, gender, class, religious belief, etc., do not have inherent or “natural” superiority, and consequently
    2) power structures built on assumptions of such superiority are illegitimate, and therefore
    3) exclusion of subgroups from political or social power on such criteria is unjustified, so
    4) “inclusivity of all groups” is a valid and desirable state of affairs.

    Globalization is producing a blowback that shakes this entire chain of reasoning. Ethno-nationalism is a challenge to the foundational idea of rule of law, or at least it seeks to modify #1 above so that the preferred ethnic national group is agreed to have inherent/national superiority.

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    1. Bharath Vallabha Post author

      I agree the main idea of liberalism is rule of law, as opposed to will of a king or a church. A natural extension of this rule of law idea, of universal, rational principles is, as your 1-4 nicely shows, that inclusivity of all groups is the way to have a universal perspective.

      Globalization is unsettling 1. Though I think ethno-nationalism is not just questioning the value of full inclusivity, but at the same time, also gaining new force due to the idea of inclusivity. Once there is an idea of a global community, however fledgling, then the same people who on a purely nationalistic, pre-global framework would be the majority (say, whites in america) become a minority (a people losing their way of life to, as it is experienced, a global monolith). So globalization is turning the liberal ideal of inclusivity, and standing up for the minorities, itself into something that can be used to speak for a more ethnic focused nationalism. In effect, the liberal view only works if there is someone or some group, like a colonial power or a segregationist powet, standing up and saying, “We are in power, and others simply have to bow to us and follow us.” But if someone says instead, “We are also a minority, and so have a right to our way of life,” there is nothing standard liberalism says to that. In effect, that’s why Clinton didn’t really have anything to say in response to Trump, because she didn’t know what to do with him taking on, and playing up, the role of a minority in some ways (non politician running for office, twitter, etc.).

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  2. Gautam

    “if someone says instead, “We are also a minority, and so have a right to our way of life,” there is nothing standard liberalism says to that”

    It is true that liberalism, as articulated in the political arena in 2nd half of 20th century, focused on expanding the rights of minorities. This political movement took as axiomatic that a minority perspective is intrinsically “earthier”, closer to ground, and closer to truth. It is this assumption that causes the confusion with the Trumpian “But we are also a minority!” view, since then you have competing minority viewpoints, & hence competing views of truth (same issue arises with intersectionality, as when you have, say, an African muslim man defending female “circumcision” aka genital mutilation).

    But there is another set of issues lurking here that also stem from classical liberal thinking: what is power, what is the just allocation of power within a group, what is justice? I think this offers more traction in working through the competing claims. E.g., when thinking of an African Muslim man endorsing female circumcision (or an out-of-work coal miner in Appalachia endorsing ethnic nationalism), we start to look at how the endorsement is an expression of power, how & under what circumstances does that power affect other people, and hinders or enhances realization of their potential.

    In short, I still have faith in classical liberal perspective 🙂 I agree that “minority rights” may be losing its potency as a political force, but there are other liberal approaches that are still potent.

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    1. Bharath Vallabha Post author

      Totally agree that classical liberal perspective is still important. This is the question I raise in my most recent post on politics and critical philosophy: how what is good in the classical liberal, Enlightenment view (I am assuming for you too they are the same) can survive what is problematic.

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