“That’s Different.” It is a weapon used today by progressives against groups they disfavor.
“Avoid hypocrisy and double standards. Treat everyone fairly.”
These used to be bedrock principles that everyone understood—whether they followed them or not. But today there is moral confusion about these principles—-confusion promoted by aggrieved groups and legitimized by so-called progressive intellectuals.
I first started thinking about this after attending a “Cultural Appropriation” workshop led by a panel of far-left university professors.1 All the presenters expressed outrage at a wide range of cultural appropriations that ranged from recipes allegedly stolen from indigenous people to minority clothing styles worn by white people.
Of all the manufactured outrages, the one that best revealed the motives of these cultural warriors was their outrage over white people who wear minority hairstyles.
An indignant African-American presenter voiced an opinion that hinted she was aware of the inconsistency in her argument. She began by arguing that a white woman wearing traditional black hairstyles is an offense. She then opined, defensively, “And no, a black woman who straightens her hair is NOT the same as a white woman who wears dreadlocks.” “You see,” explained the presenter, “That’s different because people make fun of black women’s natural hair.”
This is of course an unconvincing defense, but it reveals the core of the progressive stance: that different rules apply to different groups.
This departure from traditional standards of right and wrong is dangerous. It has implications far beyond the trivial matter of hairstyles.
In the progressive’s world of moral relativism, people are divided into groups that are favored and those that are not—-or in progressive parlance, the oppressed and the oppressors.
In the progressive playbook, white people are characterized by white privilege and are inherently racist. Even when they show no evidence of racist attitudes or behaviors they are unwittingly guilty of “implicit bias,” a new progressive construct designed to solidify the oppressor status of white people in the absence of evidence of white bias or malice. By extension, non-whites are oppressed by whites.
In the simplified moral world of the presenters, it thus makes sense to apply one rule to whites and another to blacks.
One doesn’t have to look far to see that progressives extend this idea to a wide variety of phenomena. What follows are a few examples.
Examples of Different Rules for Different Folks
People of color cannot be racist. This is, of course, contradicted by ample evidence. For example, public opinion polls have shown alarmingly high levels of anti-Semitism among American blacks.
People of any skin color may or may not be racist. The point is that the progressive view applies different standards to different groups.
Slavery is the central cause for higher COVID-19 death rates among blacks. This remarkable argument was made recently by a black university professor in a New York Times op-ed. She was incensed by current arguments that the higher incidence of health problems among blacks could be the cause of higher black COVID-19 death rates. For example, blacks have higher rates of obesity and high blood pressure and those underlying illnesses may make blacks less likely to survive COVID-19 infection.
These inconvenient facts suggest that individual blacks may have some hand in creating greater COVID susceptibility, a possibility that a progressive will not consider.
Here is the essence of the double standard: among whites, no one would deny the contribution of pre-existing health problems to health resilience. There are volumes of research to support this. But for the author of this op-ed, for blacks it is different. Their health susceptibility is due entirely to the wrongdoing of whites.
It is worth pointing out that this inconsistent standard is not doing black people any good. After all, only a correct diagnosis of the problem can lead to a solution—that is, to better health in the black community. White racism may certainly be a part of the problem, along with poverty, genetic differences and other factors not subject to individual choice. But additional factors include personal choice: poor diet, lack of exercise, alcohol and drug abuse, among other behaviors.
Slavery, an institution that ended several generations ago, is an unlikely candidate—-except for those who argue that for blacks, “That’s Different.”
By the way, people who point this out are not necessarily racist. The racists are those who use race-based arguments regardless of the evidence.
Affirmative action in hiring and university admissions is fair. Proponents argue that “That’s Different” because minorities face discrimination and other barriers that whites do not.
Affirmative action proponents get into a bit of trouble with their argument when it is shown that Asians, who are people of color, suffer unfairly from affirmative action. It took legal action for Asian-American groups to get Harvard University to release its admissions data. When it did, everyone learned that Asian-Americans seeking admission required much higher grades and test scores than did blacks and Latinos. Progressives argue, implausibly, that admissions rules ought to be different based on race, because for minority groups (although not Asians or Jews) “That’s Different.”
Minority prisoners should be released because they face a racist criminal justice system. During the COVID-19 pandemic, progressives have put this demand front and center. The argument is that it is unfair for minority prisoners to face the higher risk of COVID-19 infection in prison, because things are “different” for them in a racist system.
But is it really “different” for minorities in the criminal justice system? Progressives have argued that blacks receive longer prison sentences than whites for the same crime. But this is a phony claim. Researchers have shown that blacks receive longer sentences for similar crimes for a reason unrelated to race: They are more likely than whites to have prior criminal records.
Whatever the merits of COVID-inspired early release programs, release should be based on individual prisoner merit, independent of race.
Early release advocates should ask themselves: Do I really want different rules applied based on race? How would I feel about a convicted felon living next door who was released because of his race rather than his record?
When a woman claims she has been sexually assaulted by a man, she must be believed.
In 2018, shrill voices on the left demanded everyone believe Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations against conservative Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh—-even in the absence of evidence. Progressives pushed the meme, “Believe Her.”
But when presidential candidate Joe Biden, darling of the left, faced a similar allegation, most progressives kept quiet. To progressives, the injunction to “Believe Her” did not apply to the accuser of a liberal nominee—-“That’s Different.”
Wiser voices advised us to judge all the accused by the same standards.
And Then There Are the Jews
The far left view on Jews these days is that they are oppressors, white nationalists, or whatever other status is unpopular on the left. Thus, it is not surprising that Jews, and Israel, come out on the short end of the “That’s Different” game.
For example, progressives voice knee-jerk support for every national liberation movement—-except for Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. The progressive claim is that indigenous people have a right to sovereignty over land they have lived on for centuries. But “That’s Different” for Jews. Progressives routinely distort history to claim that Jews are not indigenous to the Land of Israel, even though historical facts say they are.
Progressives never condemn nations that have state religions, a category which includes a large number of countries. As examples, Islam is the official state religion of Egypt and Iran and England has an official state church. That hasn’t stopped progressives from condemning Israel for being “a religious state” while ignoring the many other countries with official or government-affiliated religions.
The Danish ambassador famously offended Israeli commentator Caroline Glick by admitting and advocating that the European Union apply a different standard of morality to Israel than to Israel’s Arab enemies. Israel is different, he argued, because Israel “is one of us” (meaning that Israel has European, not Arab, values). According to the ambassador, Israel should be happy to be treated this way.
But Israel is hardly happy when Europeans fund Arab terrorism and the teaching of Jew-hatred in Arab schools. Notably there is no alternate universe in which Europeans would fail to condemn Israel if it funded anti-Arab terrorism or taught its children to hate Arabs.
Nor is Israel pleased when Europeans go along with Arab insistence on a Jew-free Palestine but would never countenance an Arab-free Israel. Nor is Israel OK with a European press that justifies and minimizes Arab aggression against Jews, while it highlights Israel’s defensive actions and minimizes (or fails to mention) the Arab aggression that triggered those actions. For example, in 2015, Sweden’s foreign minister accused Israel of carrying out “extra-judicial executions” of Palestinian terrorists who stab Jews in Israel. Would the minister’s reaction have been different if her chest had been pierced by the terrorist’s knife?
And perhaps history buffs will recall that no country or international group condemned Jordan’s illegal invasion of Judea and Samaria in 1948, or its subsequent 19-year illegal occupation. The “occupation” became a problem for the Europeans only after Israel gained control over Judea and Samaria.
In every case, “That’s Different” for Israel.
“That’s Different.” It is a weapon used today by progressives against groups they disfavor. These groups include white people, males, the affluent, Christians, and sadly, Jews of all stripes.
In a more honest era this double standard was called hypocrisy.
When a society abandons the principle that all persons should be treated with the same set of standards, it enters dangerous territory.
Today’s so-called progressives are not thinking of the future. They do not realize that today’s favored groups may become tomorrow’s bad guys. And having abandoned the principle of equal standards for all, they may find their own group is now on the outs. They themselves will then become the targets of those who seek to disadvantage them by using the “That’s Different” weapon.
- Berger, R.M. The Hidden Agenda of the Cultural Appropriation Enforcers. Times of Israel [Blog], April 4, 2018. Retrieved May 30, 2020.