By Carrie Lukas
January 29, 2016 | 8:25pm
Actress Julie Delpy should have known she was doomed to defeat in her artless attempt to displace African-Americans as bigger victims of discrimination in Hollywood. Given the highly publicized outrage about the upcoming Oscars’ lack of non-white nominees, Delpy’s comments that “sometimes I wish I were African American” and “nothing worse than being a woman in this business” were ill-considered at best.
Inevitably, she apologized, explaining that she “never meant to diminish the injustice done to African-American artists or to any other people that struggle for equal opportunities and rights.”
Ian McKellen’s entry into the greatest-grievance competition — noting that no openly gay man has won best actor — didn’t create nearly as much controversy, but perhaps only because he was careful not to try to suggest homophobia was worse than racism, but rather just an equally bad plague in Hollywood.
Undoubtedly, African-Americans, women and gays all face challenges in the unique work environment of the media industry. An opaque compensation system combined with an endless supply of willing and capable workers eager to fill acting slots opens the door for unequal contracts and sweetheart deals for those connected to insiders — who are disproportionately white men. Despite all the liberal preening, sexism, homophobia and racism may still play a role in Hollywood.
Yet the Oscars controversy speaks to a larger trend with important, lasting implications. Increasingly, a hierarchy appears to be emerging among groups that have been historically oppressed, along with an expectation that, rather than judging their behavior or treatment on the merits, the public is supposed to give greater leeway to those who have had it worse.
This is one way to explain recent events in Europe. On New Year’s Eve, scores of women were attacked in Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart and several other major EU cities by groups of men whom the victims described as of Arab and North African descent. Women were harassed, groped, assaulted and, in at least a few cases, raped. Evidence suggests this was an orchestrated effort by radical Islamists to terrorize Westerners, particularly women.
One might presume that such an event would invoke unmitigated outrage by everyone interested in women’s equality and advancement. Yet much of the reaction was muted by concerns about how it would impact the migrant community, which is already disadvantaged by their displacement and by potential discrimination based on their race and faith.
Political leaders in Germany as well as the press seemed reluctant to acknowledge the extent of the violence that had occurred, and even engaged in what would typically be recognized as victim-blaming at its worst. Cologne’s mayor, Henriette Reker, lectured: “It is always possible to keep a certain distance that is longer than an arm’s length.”
Needless to say, if widespread assaults had occurred in American fraternities or sports bars, no one would be talking about what the women should have done to avoid the attacks or worrying that covering the attacks in the newspapers would stir up resentment toward otherwise innocent men. Yet because new immigrants and Muslims are considered a more vulnerable and oppressed group, women’s concerns are being pushed aside.
Women’s interests are also being put on the backburner in the new focus of helping another group considered more disadvantaged: the transgendered and men transitioning to women.
This means girls and women may have less personal privacy, and face sports competitors like the male-turned-female boxer who can dominate the sport based on her superior biological strength.
Women aren’t the only losers in this new grievance-hierarchy game. Colleges set standards far higher for the admission of students of Asian descent than for any other racial or ethnic group, an issue now before the courts.
This sliding scale of expectations is all done in the name of multiculturalism and diversity, but it’s hard to square with our fundamental understanding of fairness and the principle that people should be judged as individuals, rather than as members of a group.
There shouldn’t be an award for the most aggrieved segment of society. Instead, when it comes to small matters such as the Oscars and large matters such as policing practices and higher education, we should strive to recommit to that central idea that we should judge people on the content of their character and their actual behavior, and not create different scales based on preconceptions about heritage and history.