Equality Staring

Rights in law are fundamentally about seeing and not seeing, about the cold game of equality staring. Talking about women’s lives in the language of rights is a cold game indeed, a game played with words and philosophical concepts which bear little relationship to real life.” Instead, she believes that we need to “ground the discussion of collective rights in concrete social realities” and think about how these affect different women. And finally, what we know, and these realities also need to be evaluated before considering claims for justice.

Razack makes several assumptions about “rights”. First, she assumes that “rights” are based on the concept that each individual autonomous (able to make decisions and act on them as a free and independent moral agent; existing, reacting, or developing as an independent, self-regulating organism). Secondly, she therefore assumes that to exert your “rights” (autonomy) means that you are inevitably oppressing another.

Next, Razack makes a broad assumption about the liberal being, that they are disconnected from the community, “not socially constituted” and therefore they cannot “see how group membership altered or constrained individual choices and opportunities”. Basically that a liberal person lives unaware of the intricacies of the world they live in and the communities they disconnect from. In doing so she believes that we as a whole lose the ability to evaluate the power relations because we are not able as liberal, carefree, autonomous individuals.

My first critique of this essay is how when you make the assumption that rights are based on being autonomous everything gets a little messy. I do not rights are essentially the right to autonomy. Rights, as I believe them to be, are always in the context as humans should live, relative to one another. You are never able to act free and independent from others, and to think that you can is just a fallacy. If you don’t believe me, think of the literal world (“mother nature”) and how interconnected and dependent it is. We are the same, and the catastrophic consequences caused by just an imbalance can be seen both in our environment and in our society. Once again, this is because we are not and can never be autonomous – it’s just a philosophical concept. “Rights” therefore should not be assumed to be based on the concept of autonomy because you then make incorrect conclusions of the way in which people should act in given situations. I understand my argument here is certainly one that is idyllic or naive; however, I believe it is rooted in truth that has long since been forgotten and unpracticed in our society. There do still exist societies who believe that their choices are intertwined with the betterment of their fellow man and their greater good… we usually refer to these as tribes. From there we can imagine that once the societies learned ways of fending for them each as individuals that didn’t require such interdependence they let go of those ways and hence we now see our current state of affairs globally.

So in conclusion, while I was intrigued by Razack’s eye opening perspective on the effect of autonomy on the validity of rights, I found it distracting that it was hinged on that as there might have been an entirely different argument otherwise. I do agree with her that laws and their frameworks often ignore the actual reality to instead dance a game of words and unseeing philosophical viewpoints. I wonder what her response would be if she considered changing the ‘me first’ nature that is so pervasive in our society and then considered rights in that perspective…?

Razack, S. (1998). Looking White People in the Eye: Gender, Race and Culture in Courtrooms and Classrooms (p. viii, 246 p.). University of Toronto Press.


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