“It’s not fair!” This is a strategy which employs both denial and attack at the same time, and it’s what happens when those who have an unearned advantage are threatened with having it taken away from them. The best illustration of this goes thusly: There are two children sitting in a nursery playing, a boy and a girl. The boy has five toys, the girl three. A kind person comes in and gives the girl two more toys. Boy: “Where are mine? Where are MY two toys?? No fair!! NO FAIR!!!”
The interesting thing about this is that the persons who perceive that they are being unfairly discriminated against by attempts to make things fair for everybody are usually quite happy to put up with unfairness when it doesn’t discriminate against them. Thus those straight white men who express concern and disquiet at positive discrimination and similar programmes but seem nevertheless entirely unbothered by the fact that the status quo leaves lots of people discriminated against every day. I can see that people feel unfairness much more keenly when it affects them personally (to quote the matchless Rudyard Kipling* “The toad beneath the harrow knows/exactly where each toothpoint goes”). And I can, as I’ve said already, understand and sympathise with those who don’t want to lose their nice advantage and all the lovely things that go with it. But if you’ve spent a lifetime profiting from an unfair situation, and not railing against the unfairness of it when that unfairness only affected other people, it does sort of make your commitment to fairness a bit less credible if said commitment only reveals itself when you’re the one losing out.
And of course there is a dialectic absurdity in going happily about your life as the beneficiary of unearned advantage and then, when action is proposed to make things more fair, arguing that this is unfair. What you mean is “Unfair on ME”. And what that translates to is “I don’t wanna”. And this is actually a perfectly valid argument which is used successfully all the time; may I reference Lord Davis of Abersoch’s response to the query as to why he hasn’t recommended binding requirements on UK companies to create more gender equality on their boards: ” We feel a voluntary regime would be better”? In other words, “I don’t wanna”.
*Whoops, sorry – I originally attributed this to Rabbie Burns. And me a huge Kipling fan too! The entire poem, Pagett M.P., can be read here and is sad proof that nothing changes.