The unbearable racism of fairness

The title of this “Stanford’s CS Theory Research Blog” post seemed routine enough: “The Racist Side of ‘Fairness’”. We were expecting the usual boilerplate about how “equal opportunity” and other calls for fairness are really coded racist talk. Instead — delightfully! — the attack turned out to be etymological:

At times I have a title that is only waiting for a paper or a joke that is only waiting for a talk. And (with some effort) the opportunity usually presents itself. I am now in the process of writing such a paper on fairness, which could be titled “The Fairest of Them All.” Very excited about this work and will surely discuss it here later. But while working on it, I (finally) realized something that I find to be rather horrific: Racism is so engraved in our culture that even the word ‘fairness’ has racist etymological roots. After all, fairness comes from fair which refers to ‘beautiful’ but also to “light of complexion or color of hair and eyes.” (See NPR for further discussion.) So, I take this opportunity to remind that black beauty matter [sic]!

The author is right to be horrified, because racism is literally the worst thing in the world (but there’s a cure!). He might consider switching to Russian, where beauty is etymologically connected to the color red, rather than white. Whether Russians are in fact less racist than Americans remains an open question, but even here they put on an air of superiority.


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