Ok, I'm feeling productive. El kid is currently entertaining himself with a foam innertube and will be heading down for his afternoon nap soon. Let's do this.
I heard recently about a bill that was introduced in the Colorado state legislature that would have made it illegal for businesses to discriminate against bikers. Apparently, bikers sometimes go into bars and restaurants and are refused service because the managers don't want to deal with their kind.
Not surprisingly, the bill didn't even make it out of committee. But it did get me thinking.
I asked my husband, "Why is it okay to discriminate against bikers and not against black people?"
He said, "Because it is a choice to be a biker."
I said, "What does that have to do with anything?"
I'm guessing the reasoning goes something like this: If you don't like the fact that people treat you poorly because you are a biker, then stop being a biker. Problem solved.
Black people, women people, deaf people, older people--they don't have a choice to be in these particular groups, so if someone treats them poorly they need to have some sort of legal recourse.
There are two major problems I have with the whole I was born this way argument.
1) When a person says I was born this way it's like they're saying I can't help being this way. And when a person says, I can't help being this way, It's like they're saying, If I could help it, I would. Like when a person says, I can't help eating lots of chocolate what they are also saying is, I have no control over my chocolate eating habits, don't you think if I could eat less chocolate, I would?!!
By defaulting to the immutable characteristic argument, the person is in someway agreeing that their immutable characteristic is not ideal, but they have no control over it.
Perhaps my concern with this argument is obvious. But if it's not, I will explain it now.
It is true that I was born black. And as of right now, there is no way for me to change that fact about myself. However, even if I could change it, I wouldn't. I like being black, and it is a significant part of my identity. There is nothing inherently wrong with it, and so I don't see any reason to be anything different.
2) The second problem with the born this way argument, is that it opens up the idea that people who aren't born a certain way are legitimate targets for discrimination/poor treatment. Like bikers: Well, no one told you to be a biker, so if you don't like the dirty looks/decreased employment opportunities/ etc. you get, stop associating yourself with that lifestyle.
This completely overlooks the fact that it is the people who are doling out the poor treatment that are in the wrong, not the people choosing to wear leather pants and long hair. It doesn't matter if I choose to present myself in a certain way or not, am I not entitled to be treated with the same dignity and respect as people that appear in a way that is more pleasing to you?
Well, bikers have a reputation for being rowdy, it makes sense that a restaurant owner might not want them there.
Well, black people have a reputation for being rowdy too. But if you turn a black guy away from your restaurant because he's black, he can sue you.
This leads me into a nice transition to my next point: Why is it illegal to discriminate against people of a certain race, sex, age etc.?
One thing that I learned from reading The Help was that it was illegal for black and white people to commingle. Now, I know that they were called Jim Crow laws, but I didn't put two and two together that black and white people couldn't eat at the same lunch counter, even if they wanted to. In my mind, it was like the stuff about voting and running for office were the laws, and the stuff about the restaurants and stores were more like customs. But no, it would appear that even if a black person and white person were each consenting to hang out together in a public place, they could be arrested.
Obviously, this is bad. But I don't necessarily agree that the answer to it's illegal to have black and white people eat together is it's illegal for black and white people not to eat together.
Ok, hear me out. What rights do individual business owners have about who they will or won't serve in their establishments? You may remember that Rand Paul made a similar argument, but he got his booty handed to him.
Clearly, it is okay in our society for a business owner to say, We don't serve bikers. Why not okay to say we don't serve black people? Is it because black people went through slavery and bikers didn't?
I personally would like to go to places where I am welcomed with a smile, and not have to wonder if I am being served only because it would be illegal not to serve me. If a person put up a sign that said whites only, that might be better, because then I would know that that person didn't want me (or my money) and I could find another establishment to support. It would also help because then I would know which of my white friends did go to these businesses, which would help me get a better understanding of what their priorities were. Like how I can't go to Chick-Fil-A anymore for delicious chicken sandwiches with extra pickles because Chick-Fil-A doesn't like gay people.
It seems like a more reasonable response to Jim Crow laws would have been, it's no longer illegal for blacks and whites to hang out, so now do whatever you choose to do. Some business would have stayed segregated, and some would have decided to integrate. And everyone would know where they were and weren't welcome.
Well, black people pay taxes and small business owners get tax breaks, so these businesses should be open to everyone.
Bikers pay taxes too.
It's like by making discrimination illegal, we didn't stop people from wanting to discriminate--we just basically forced them not to. And that forcing thing hasn't really been going very well. Because most places where there is some element of choice--schools, churches, neighborhoods, etc. are still quite segregated.
If discrimination was still legal, we would all have much clearer picture of what we were working with. Perhaps I could avoid situations like this one. Maybe we could finally see just how far we have (or haven't) come.
Just a couple of other things before I close: I would not be a proponent of making discrimination legal in any public or government space (like libraries, government buildings, public schools etc.) Also, it is quite possible that since I never lived in the era of whites only signs that I have no idea of their damaging psychological impact. Perhaps being followed around in stores and/or receiving poor service is actually a major upgrade.
My basic point is this: In an ideal world, anyone could go anywhere and be treated with kindness, because we all recognized each other's common humanity. But there is a reason that be nice is not a law in any state, city or municipality: Because you can't legislate morality. People don't treat others decently because they have to, they do it because they want to. We should be focusing on getting people to want to, not forcing their hands through laws.
So what do you think? Is this the most brilliant thing you've ever read? Are you wondering if I smoked something since it's 4/20? Whatever your thoughts, you know I want to hear them. Leave me a comment!