Is Sonia Kruger right about ‘reverse discrimination’?

Reverse

THE furore over Sonia Kruger’s latest controversial remarks has reignited the debate over so-called “reverse discrimination”.

(Article by Dana McAuley)

When the television host slammed an LGBTI scholarship on Today Extra yesterday morning, she tapped into a deep chasm in popular opinion over which Australians deserve a helping hand.

Speaking out against a $7000 scholarship being reserved for a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex high school student, Kruger argued that sexuality should not have anything to do with the selection process and scholarships “should be given on merit”.

This prompted her co-host David Campbell to retort that young sports stars have access to a long list of educational scholarships, arguing that the Australian Business and Community Network Scholarship Foundation’s decision to support LGBTI kids was “hardly a big deal”.

But it’s a big deal for many on both sides of the political spectrum. Many Facebook users commented in support of Kruger, while she was widely derided on Twitter.

 

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WHAT IS REVERSE DISCRIMINATION?

In Kruger’s camp are those who oppose any form of so-called “positive discrimination”, or measures that aim to help those who are disadvantaged and thus even out the playing field — such as gender, age or race quotas, targeted scholarships and government assistance.

Education expert Kevin Donnelly argues that such measures can have an unintended consequences.

“It can be debilitating if you single out one or two aspects of a person and give them an advantage … and then the people who would be deserving miss out,” Dr Donnelly told The Australian.

“Instead of weighing up an individual on their ability or academic talent it, you’re introducing something that’s irrelevant, which can be counter-productive.”

He’s not alone; some members of minority groups agree that emphasising difference is unhelpful.

For example, there are conservative gays who take offence at events like Sydney’s colourful Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade, on the grounds that it promotes a particular stereotype of the LBGTI community.

Indigenous woman Kerryn Pholi burned her proof of Aboriginality in 2011 in rebellion against what she calls the “racism of preferential treatment”.

After years spent working in government positions open only to Aboriginal people, Pholi started reading academic critiques of affirmative action, the approach that centres on boosting opportunities for disadvantaged minority groups.

“After that, I could no longer ignore the fact that my career was built on racism,” Ms Pholi told the ABC.

“Not ‘reverse racism’ or ‘positive discrimination’— just plain racism, of benefit to nobody except a select gang of privileged people with the right genes and a piece of paper to prove it. In other words, of benefit only to people like me.”

‘IT’S A SHAKY CONCEPT’

Professor Michele Grossman, the Director of the Centre for Cultural Diversity and Wellbeing at Victoria University in

Melbourne, says the concept of reverse discrimination is “a pretty shaky one”.

“What it tries to describe as a concept is that the tables are simply turned, so a group that previously might have been seen to have an unfair advantage or privilege has now been flipped to the bottom of the pack,” Prof Grossman said.
But, she said, in the decades since efforts to address inequality began, there was no evidence that this had happened.

“The idea of reverse discrimination is that somebody somewhere is always being disadvantaged or discriminated against,” she said.

“That is definitely not what these kinds of scholarships or other programs that attempt to address structural inequality are about.”

Giving the example of gender discrimination, she said that after 30 years of effort to boost female participation in the workforce there was “no evidence anywhere that men as a class have suffered disadvantage”.

“To support a claim of reverse discrimination, you would have to be able to demonstrate that other people who didn’t belong to that group were suffering disadvantage or discrimination as a group,” Prof Grossman said.

LEVELLING THE PLAYING FIELD

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs weighed in on radio, sparring with 3AW Drive host Tom Elliott on Monday.

After Elliot argued that minority groups should not be given special treatment, Dr Triggs said the measures were valid under Australian law and were there “to create a level playing field”.

“It’s not about categorising people,” she said.

“What we’re talking about here is giving an advantage to somebody who’s got a significant disadvantage … You want to give everyone the same level of opportunity.”

That’s the aim of an existing LGBTI scholarship program, now in its sixth year.

Pinnacle Foundation chief executive Sean Linkson overcame his own bullying past to achieve success in the corporate world, and co-founded the organisation to help young people going through similar challenges.

Each year, the foundation awards about two dozen scholarships of up to $5000 to LBGTI students aged between 16 and 24. Recipients have gone on to become high achievers in their respective fields.

Mr Linkson said critics of targeted scholarships failed to understand the extreme hurdles faced by young people grappling with discrimination, describing the “crushing bigotry and hatred” they encountered.

“In many cases, these kids get kicked out of home and deserted by their faith communities, families or schools,” Mr Linkson said.
“There’s a pretty high level of ignorance out there as to what these young people face and what they suffer. If anyone put themselves in their shoes, and really understood deeply what they faced, we wouldn’t be having the discussion that we’re having at the moment.”
dana.mccauley@news.com.au

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