the tradeoffs in social justice advocacy

This is a fascinating paper by sociologist Chris Martin, of Emory University, about the tradeoffs between mutually incompatible social justice goals. He focuses his analysis on intergroup race relations and gender parity in academic fields.

On race relations, Martin discusses the tradeoff between unity (color-blindness) vs proportionality (color-consciousness) based approaches to antiracism. He examines how many academics and activists do not recognize a tradeoff exists, and often consider unity based approaches to be “color-blind” racism. He points out that not acknowledging the tradeoff results in biased research, which will lead to problems down the road. I want to point out before I move forward that Chris Martin is not white (I believe he is Indian).

Chris, on the other hand, recognizes that a tradeoff exists. What this means is that as our society moves away from color-blind policies, intended to increase intergroup harmony and feelings of mutual respect, and towards color-conscious based policies, intended to reduce perceived structural injustice via interventions such as affirmative action, there will be more tension and less harmony between racial groups. But tradeoffs can exist in the opposite direction as well. For example, a society that is structurally unjust, but only focuses on unity, will be unable to remedy such corruption and unfairness.

It seems to me that Chris’ recommendations are the only really sensible ones. Basically, he compels academics and social justice advocates to recognize the reality of such tradeoffs, and to embrace once again unity based approaches to intergroup relations as antiracist. I agree.