[Ed note: This article contains citations specific to the USA. Many of the arguments here can be made equally
well with the laws of other countries however this article is most definitely US-based. The author is aware of
this. Please keep any discussion about the inferiority of the US legal system to yourself if you live in one of
the more "superior" countries such as Canada, or most of Europe.]
How bad is it, doc?
It's popular opinion these days that black people are oppressed in this country. A multitude of statistics
are usually pushed forward to support this - black people make less than white people. Black people are pulled over more often by
police officers and receive stiffer penalties than their white counterparts. Discrimination in the workplace - black
people are passed over for raises more often, aren't hired as often, and are treated more poorly than whites.
When renting apartments, more often than not when discrimination occurs, it is against blacks instead of
whites. These assertions are all
supported substantially by statistics and empirical analysis. That is to say, this really happens and it's not
just a popular opinion.
But there's a lot more discrimination out there - people don't just discriminate on the basis of color. They
discriminate on the basis of sex, your height, your weight, your background, the kind of clothes you wear, how
you walk and talk and shake hands. People can and do discriminate against you because of your profession, your
hair style and general appearance, and how you smell.
Popular opinion is that racism is wrong, along with sexism. When you start to delve into discrimination
however, it quickly becomes clear that some kinds of discrimination is okay and some isn't. Age discrimination,
for example, is perfectly legal. As a 21 year old male, I can't rent a vehicle. I've never been in an
accident and I have a clean driving record. I've been driving for almost six years but I can't rent a car. I
can't run for president either.
"Equal protection under the law"
It has been in the news recently that slavery reparations should be considered. Several proposals have been
advanced which vary in content, but the common theme is that slavery was a crime which was never repaid
(sufficiently), and the descendants of those slaves should be compensated for this. "Equal opportunity"
employment law is in place in many states. Recognizing that discrimination on the basis of sex and race occur,
employers are mandated by law to hire a certain percentage of non-white and female workers. In addition, discrimination on the basis of age (for persons age 40 and
older - see first paragraph of this cite: ), or due to
disability is prohibited by federal law. There is legislation on the house and senate floors entitled the
"Violence Against Women Act" (HR 3514 and S 2110, respectively), which aims to provide greater punishment for a
variety of crimes committed against women, including sexual assault and domestic violence. It specifically, and
only, provides these additional protections for women.
Going back to the Constitution of the United States, Article XIV: "No State shall make or enforce any law
which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive
any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its
jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." Equal protection of the laws. Astute readers already know where
I am going with this - how can these laws, which protect only certain groups, be allowable under the US
Constitution? One has to further question the morality of laws which state that crimes against particular people
are somehow worse than against other people, irrespective of the merits of the crime itself. After all, aren't
all people equal - just like the declaration of independence says? In defense of the supporters of the
above-mentioned legislation -these inequalities do exist and laws like this could help offset those
inequalities. Perhaps Article XIV is out of the date, and needs to be re-interpreted in the context of modern
Why does discrimination occur? Are women, blacks, homosexuals, short people, fat people, or people who spend
all their time online somehow worthy of discrimination? Infact they are. People are, for the most part,
objective and rational individuals. An employer who discriminates against blacks does not do it simply because
the person is black - they do it because the employer perceives black people to be inferior workers. Judges who
give women lighter sentences than their male counterparts do so because they perceive the crime of the woman to
be less severe, or less likely to be repeat offenders. Insurance companies who discriminate against young people
do so because they perceive that young people are less cautious drivers and more prone to accidents. And, in
fact, each of these perceptions has a factual basis!
Discrimination is a necessary part of the social fabric of this, and in fact, any society. People need ways
of quickly identifying the disposition of people they meet in the real world. Do you judge prospective mates on
certain criterion like age, physical appearance, or their gender? Do you judge people you see on the street or
conduct informal business with on the basis of how they dress or talk? Do you perceive the teenage girl at the
Target check-out who has no less than six visible parts of her body pierced and has blue hair to be
irresponsible or uncaring? Why do you have these predjudices?
For me it is, in part, because I have met other people like that before who have had those attributes.
Inductive reasoning - I see ten teenage girls like that, and eight of them are snotty little brats. Logic tells
me the next one I meet will probably be a snotty little brat as well. It works the same way for most other
discriminations people have. I would further assert that this is quite necessary - I can't hand out a
questionnaire to every potential girlfriend to find out if I'll be compatible with her, or ask the teenage girl
behind the checkout counter if she's a snotty little brat. The other part of why I might discriminate against
someone is based on my culture. People I trust - my friend, my family, my church members, tell me about certain
people, or certain types of people. Have your parents offered you their opinions about your date before? "Looks
good, but I don't like him." When pressed, the answer might very well be that they didn't like the way he
dressed, or that he was rude. Or maybe, it's because he was black, and your parents don't want you dating black
people. You know what they say about young black men and little white girls, you know?
The most powerful argument against discrimination against classes of people comes from the fact that most
people do not fit in exactly with the social stereotypes of the class they belong to. There's bound to be plenty
of caring and compassionate young black men, or computer geeks who play video games and are non-violent, or
women who are excellent engineers. The problem with inductive logic, how most discriminatory biases are formed,
is that while it may often hold true, it does not always hold true. It is a correlation, not a causation.
There is a kernel of truth in most forms of discrimination: blacks are more likely to commit violent acts
than white people are. That does not mean the black person you met today is a violent person. Does that mean it
is wrong to be more on the defensive solely because they are black - more to the point, should you discriminate
because you've met lots of other people just like this person who were violent? If you feel inductive reasoning
is flawed, you've already dismissed science in its entirety - after all, isn't it by repeated observation that
we come to know about certain natural laws?
Discrimination is a complicated issue, and that the extremist position that many adopt - all discrimination
is wrong, is unattainable for most people. People's environment, cultural background, personal experiences, and
preconceived notions of how people interact with each other are the determining factors in the nature of their
biases. Communication never occurs in a vacuum, and it is rarely one-way. There is a distinct two-way dialogue
between the person who is being discriminatory, and the person being discriminated against, and both parties are
responsible for communicating the desired message or image of themselves.
Next time you hear someone complaining that "the man" is keeping them down, or that they're a "victim" of
discrimination, remind them that it's a two-way street. And also remind them that discrimination cuts both ways
- while women make less than men do, women also enjoy lighter sentences for criminal conduct than men, and whose
claims of sexual misconduct are likely to be taken much more seriously than men. As individuals, and as a
society, we have to recognize the complexity of human relationships before we can truly understand, and tackle,
the problem of discrimination. If it's even a problem at all, where do we draw the line?