Friday, June 18, 2010

Discrimination

Alone on the sofa, remote's all mine, I hit Power and what do I see? Well, it's Sarah Jessica Parker.

Do I really want to watch Sex in the City? No, but this looks like it's the movie, the first one, 2008.   And I missed it. So yes.

Except it's a No, a serious waste of time. The film is overly soppy, boring, and as much as I love a good chick flick, this doesn't work for me. The only thing I like about Sex in the City I  is Jennifer Hudson--  Louise. The story goes that Carrie Bradshaw, a writer, has hired Louise from St. Louis as her personal assistant.

Jennifer owns the screen, she's the only thing to watch in this movie.  When Louise leaves the job, when she leaves the script,  I'm thinking, I don't need to watch any more of this. But I do watch, just a little more, to see how Carrie will resolve her conflict with girlfriend Miranda. And how in the world will Miranda ever get back with Steve?

Marital therapy, of course.

Anyway, why review this movie with little redeeming social content, unless we want to talk about the soft (not so soft) porn?  Oh, let's not do that.  Not now.

Jennifer Hudson is a woman of color, and watching this eminently watchable, lovely, actor  I find myself asking, How could anyone judge anyone else based upon the color of their skin?


The Story:
I'm training my intern about sexual discrimination and sexual harassment.  She asks me a question about the law.

Which one?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically, Title VII. The law defines protected classes of people who are protected from unfair discrimination in the workplace, and in schools. The ironic history of Title VII is that in the early sixties, when the law was a nascent bill, hotly debated in Congress, the workforce of the United States was primarily male. Indeed, most working people were blue collar-- this was a time when a person in tool and dye, or the auto industry, could find steady work, support a family.

It became fairly obvious to Congress, a male dominated club, especially to representatives and senators from the South, that if racial discrimination became illegal, their constituents would suffer competition for their livelihoods.

And yet, that's what was on the table, a law that barred discrimination in the workplace. So someone thought up something absolutely brilliant: Throw in sex as a protected class! Make sex discrimination at work illegal, and the bill won't pass!  Nobody wants women in the workforce competing for jobs!   But when it came out that that this was why they included sex as a protected class, the good people in the Congress passed the law anyway.  What a country!  Think of this on the Fourth of July, and sing along.

But back to our story.

All well and good, says my intern.  But why are people so prejudiced? How do they become judgmental? Is it because they learn this in their families of origin?

Sharp kid.

And maybe it's true, some people carry on a fine tradition of racial/ethnic hatred. But it is more likely, unfortunately, that personal experience hard-wires racial stereotyping.  Our brains just love to keep it simple. Don't make me think.  That's the brain.

I had the pleasure of hearing Joanne Trapani, a diversity presenter for Cook County employees, talk about how, for a long time, she associated being Irish with being a drunk. All it took was three dates with three Irishmen who drank her under the table.

We all have one of these examples, experiences with people different from ourselves that drive us to faulty generalizations based upon too little data.  Here's mine:

My mail doesn't come on time, and sometimes there's just no mail delivery to the office at all, none for the entire building.  Worse yet, it isn't picked up from the box on the corner, either, not at the times posted.  My mail carrier is African-American. The last mail carrier was African-American, as was the one before her.  The post office nearby is mostly staffed with African-Americans. I should know better than to blame race or skin color, and I don't.  But that data!  Three out of three!

Not wanting my mail to take a hiatus in a blue metal USPS box, I take my correspondence to another neighborhood. Over there the postal workers are Asian, primarily Korean. Once I mailed a letter at 10:00 a.m. and the letter arrived same day. So you know who's getting my business.

What do we do with this? Fortunately, we have Ms. Trapani as a role model.  We stay rational, accept that our experience is severely limited, recognize there are dozens of other variables at work, that it is not skin color, not race, not national origin, not sex, not age, not disability, responsible for late or non-existent mail delivery.   The bell curve tells us so, the rules of Normal-- that if you consider the entire population, not your limited experience, then you'll see.  Some of us are smart.  Some not so smart.  Some of us are organized. Some, not so organized. Some of us play tennis well.  Others miss the ball every time.  It is the luck of the draw, life.  All random, the cards we have to play.

When social scientists generalize about things being random, we're saying, when it comes my mail carriers, my luck is bad.  That's all it is.  Nothing to do with color or culture.  Just bad luck.

It is scary, however, how we form assumptions about entire races of people, millions of them, based upon a few random experiences with "representatives."  It is so scary that Congress made it illegal to do this in the workplace, to act upon our fears, exclude people we're not so sure about.

And lucky for us, Hollywood is doing everything possible to to publicize the absurdity of our assumptions by sprinkling our feel-good film-going experience of diversity with something that apparently many people really do love and can feel good about.  Gratuitous sex, or soft porn.

therapydoc
 

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've wondered this, too, how it is that discrimination and prejudice start. I took a class on race and racism. One idea that came up is that it seems to be human nature, unfortunately, for some people to want other people to be in a subordinate position. One person went so far as to say that he believed this was what original sin is, the desire of one person to put down, keep down, dehumanize, make another "less than" self. A thought that also came out of the class was that the worst acts of discrimination, such as lynchings in the southern US, occurred not so much because everyone got stirred up and was full of hatred; instead the thought was that it grows out of indifference to the suffering of others. So maybe that's part of the possible solution, to somehow get people who feel indifference to have empathy for the suffering of others. One could think of it as divine grace, this awareness of the suffering of others. I think most of us wrestle with that at one time or another. Some of us learn that lesson as children, some learn it later in life, a bit at a time. Some, like psychopaths, seem never to learn it at all. I think to remain unbiased, or to strive for that, means constantly evaluating and reevaluating one's thoughts and actions in relation to others. One needs to question one's self when one has a strongly negative reaction to someone of a different race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, I think. It's necessary, I think, to tease apart what is a legitimate grievance from a grievance that grows out of discrimination.

Isle Dance said...

I've found it definitely starts with the elders of anyplace teaching through their words and actions.

When I was a little girl, the only light skinned one in the neighborhood bunch, I didn't know it. I didn't see myself/others that way because it hadn't yet been (repeatedly?) pointed out to (or grasped by?) me.

But then, kids at school started yelling at me for having a friend who was, according to them, "black." I didn't know what that meant. I had no sense of how to comprehend what they were saying. No. Clue.

I just knew my friend was kind and they were not.

Dreaming again said...

We thought we had the worst luck when it came to mail carriers. Then found out we were on a training route ...so in effect, we did. New carriers, not yet good enough to have a 'stable route' but enough training to work on their own for a portion of the day.
The longest we had the same carrier was 8 weeks (and we lived there for 18 years)

We moved, thinking our mail problems would be over ...we were wrong. Not only did this address not exist before we built our house here ...but we're on yet another training route! ARGH!

If I didnt' have a brother and friend from high school as mail carriers ... I'd think the whole lot seriously lacked a work ethic.

-K said...

I saw a film during college (and subsequently on PBS) which forever impacted my view on discrimination. It featured a school teacher, Jane Elliott, who did an experiment with her class the day after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. She told her class that brown eyed people were smarter, cleaner, and superior to blue eyed people. By the end of the day the children had divided themselves, even turning on their friends who did not share their own eye color. In the end, she revealed the experiment was an illustration on discrimination. It was eye-opening to her students.

I have used this example while raising my own children - whether it comes to race, gender or other differences between people. They will surely have their own experiences which will shape their views, but I hope they will be tempered by the values I have tried to instill in them.

Anonymous said...

I'm over 50... old enough to remember segregation.

I remember when my parents' neighborhood first began to be integrated.

I remember bringing a friend of a different race home to dinner, and how the other neighborhood kids mistreated both of us. And the brave, brave school bus driver, who put a stop to it immediately and forcefully - and didn't get fired.

I remember how I cried when a friend and colleague, who is black, insisted on carrying something heavy for me, and I didn't want him to because for so many years, for so many people, it wouldn't have been a choice. I remember him telling me that the fact of its being a choice was a freedom he cherished just as much he cherished our friendship and our ability to work together.

I cherish the tears in my eyes when I see children of all colors playing together. Young adults hanging out. Older adults holding hands as loving couples - people for whom such relationships might have been illegal in their youths!

May all the colors of the human rainbow mix and mingle, in a bright, bright blessing.

therapydoc said...

Thanks to all of you.

Sandra Dee said...

A good book that explores the origin of racial discrimination and fears it brings to any one about the "other" is called "A Rap On Race" by Margaret Mead and James Baldwin.

It is a taped conversation between the two, transcribed into a running dialogue of this topic. Very interesting!