Who Deserves to be called a Scab?

First, unsurprisingly, there’s Ann Coulter arguing that legal immigrants do not deserve civil rights because they have not experienced the same history of discrimination and oppression as African Americans. But she’s says stuff like this all the time and just wants attention.

Now Jay Caspian Kang, who is a great new writer for grantland.com is making comments on his twitter feed that, first, NFL replacement refs shouldn’t be referred to as scabs because the real refs aren’t real laborers. A lot of refs have day jobs, even successful ones that Bryan Knowles points out in a fair minded piece. As Kang said, they aren’t mine workers.

Then, when under criticism for his twitter feed (which appeared to be about a half dozen comments), he equated those advocating better labor opportunities for refs with people in private schools who fight for racial diversity. His point being, refs are rich, just as people in private schools are, and this isn’t any kind of ‘labor’ issue or ‘injustice.’

It’s just twitter, so its not worth beating him up over it, but there’s a bigger point here–if laborers only deserve help if they are ‘mine workers,’ and immigrants deserve help only if they were directly linked to a ‘legacy of slavery,’ we are kind of missing the point about what equality entails, which is giving everyone a true opportunity to achieve what everyone else does. Private schools are unequal, and it contributes mightily to why society is unequal. Kang might know this since he went to Bowdoin instead of UNC, but I’m not going to attribute motives to someone I don’t know. Plenty of others who make such moves do know this, or certainly believe it. If Kang sits back for a second and thinks about it, he’d have to believe it too, if not for himself than at least for a lot of other people who seemingly benefitted from it and the many others who are being hurt by the disadvantages they suffer from being left out of the ivy league elite. This is not to say you can’t make it at UNC, a great school, let alone a less great public school. It just means that the contribution that many of our private schools have to hierarchies in society are real and meaningful and to dismiss efforts to reform them as some elite pre-occupation is short-sighted.

Changing the standards for refs isn’t going to have the same impact for society as greater racial equality in private schools. It’s true, these guys aren’t mine workers, even if mine workers these days make as much or more as the refs. Refs only have to face an occasional angry Belichick, not the dangers of the mines. But the point of it isn’t pulling these guys out of poverty; it’s letting them have an opportunity to participate in the capitalist process as much as everyone else. They are standing up for themselves, risking an important part of their livelihood, and other people are stepping on their courage and directly hurting their ability to get a better deal and get back to work. And these replacements are enabling rich owners to get away with being even richer. That sounds like a scab.

That doesn’t mean that a scab is necessarily unworthy of a certain sympathy either. It’s always been people who themselves are left in a desperate position in society that have taken opportunities to be scabs; historically, it involved a lot of immigrants and racial minorities, the kinds who didn’t have civil rights laws benefitting them and weren’t getting into private schools. I feel for them too. (not for Joe Montana, though. He broke the NFL players strike in 1987–in fact, his early return helped the 49ers win the Super Bowl that year, a tough memory for this Niner fan). But when we start parsing who is worthy of help and opportunity and who isn’t, we are going to be left with a society that looks a lot like it does now with union membership in sharp decline, public teachers being attacked for making too much money, and NFL owners who have day jobs that have nothing to do with football and yet are locking out workers who make an nth of what they do.

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