Headscarves, Accommodation and the Problem of Joint Costs


Publish Date:
November 4, 2013
Publication Title:
19 Social Identities 704 .
Journal Article
  • Richard Thompson Ford, Headscarves, Accommodation and the Problem of Joint Costs, 19 Social Identities 704 (Nov. 2013).


A central project of race-conscious progressive thought has been to establish that racial minorities have distinctive norms, perspectives, voices and cultural practices that might contribute to ‘diversity.’ The implicit presumption underlying the accommodationist account of discrimination is that group cultural differences are natural and authentic expressions of individual conscience and identity and that failure to accommodate these differences is a form of tyranny. Here, as in Michel Foucault's account of sexuality, we find a ‘repressive hypothesis’: power is exercised through censorship and repression, justice entails nothing more than the absence of repression, a willingness to let human nature take its course and embrace the mysterious and beautiful forces that already surround and define us. But what if our era is defined less by therepressionof group difference than by itsproduction? And what if – as in Foucault's analysis – the repressive hypothesis itself is one of the mechanisms by which this production of group difference is accomplished? Is there evidence for such a counter-hypothesis? In American society, human beings are sorted (and sort themselves) with remarkable comprehensiveness, precision and efficiency into a number of almost canonical social groups. You know what they are (and more importantly, you knowwho youare). By contrast, I propose that a just society should seek to speed the integration of disadvantaged and socially isolated groups, regardless of whether that requires the accommodation or the suppression of the distinctive practices of minority groups. This suggests a policy that guarantees opportunities for those minorities willing to assimilate: aggressive and comprehensive enforcement of anti-discrimination law with respect to race, ethnicity and religious faith, but not necessarily with respect to conspicuous expressive practices.