There are of course articles in other categories that deal with discrimination; these are specifically aimed at that issue. Readers should also read materials on Church and State, Marriage Law, Freedom of Expression, and Health Care.
Let's talk about ham. Some people will not eat ham--the Jews, obviously, but also the Muslims, and let us not forget vegetarians and vegans. This is fundamentally a religious objection, a matter of what they believe. Some of them are morally offended if you eat ham in their presence.
Were we, through some nutrition program such as the school lunch program, to insist that people with these beliefs eat ham, we would be discriminating against them, forcing them to violate their religious beliefs. We probably would not be allowed to do that under the religious freedoms clause of the Bill of Rights.
These people not only do not eat ham; they do not sell it, either. Were I to walk into a kosher deli and order a ham and cheese on rye, I probably would be shown the door rather quickly--it would be a highly offensive request. The owner of the deli has the right not to sell a product to which he has religious objections. It is not merely that he does not stock ham; it is that he believes the consumption of such a product is offensive to God. He would not serve me a roast beef and cheese sandwich, either, because it violates his religion, and he is perfectly permitted to do that--no one can say he has to serve the sandwich the customer orders if it is against his religion to make such a thing, even if he has the ingredients at hand. (He does not object to roast beef or to cheese, only to the combination.)
Now let's turn to the question of wedding cakes for same-sex weddings--and photography, and flowers, and catering, all the services that homosexuals believe they deserve to be able to get from whomever they want, that whoever they attempt to hire for the job has to accept the job. Yet they would agree that you cannot order a roast beef and cheese sandwich in a kosher deli and expect service. It is a matter of the religious opinion of the service provider superceding the wants of the customer. In the same way, if you are expecting someone to provide a wedding package for you and you are violating his faith, you cannot expect him to comply; he ought to be able to say, "I'm sorry, it is against my religion to provide products of that sort, why don't you try this other provider who is my competitor who does jobs like this and does them well?" If the provider is willing to pass on your business because he objects to the product you are ordering, you ought not to be able to force him or penalize him for doing so.
The objection will be raised that it is the same product, that a wedding cake or floral arrangement or wedding album is the same whether the couple is bride and groom, or two men, or two women. Is it? The wedding cake undoubtedly has a topper, and the traditional toppers are of a bride and groom, woman and man; should our baker be forced to carry or special order cake toppers he does not believe ought to be on a wedding cake? The photographer at our wedding choreographed many of the photos--the bride with bridesmaids, groom with groomsmen, family photos; the photos of the tossing of the bouquet, the removing of the garter, the embarrassing moment as the boy who caught the garter puts it on the leg of the girl who caught the bouquet--these are all pretty standard photos in the wedding album proofs. A photographer might not feel comfortable trying to adapt his wedding package to a situation in which bride and groom are perhaps more interchangeable. Wedding flower packages are based on the assumption that there are brides and bridesmaids, grooms and groomsmen, different flowers in a coordinated package.
I do not believe that anyone has claimed he would not sell flowers, or photography services, or baked goods, to homosexuals. The claim has been that these people will not provide wedding services designed for heterosexual marriages in service of what the providers consider a travesty of the purpose and function of the ceremony. If you want a corsage, a photospread of your children, a birthday cake, no one is refusing service based on sexual preference. Rather, they are refusing to provide services they do not ordinarily provide, refusing to adapt what they offer to suit something that is abhorent to their religious beliefs. Disagree with them, but take your business to someone else. After all, if the photographer says he does not feel comfortable shooting your wedding photos, you probably don't want his photos anyway.
Or are you really the kind of person who would order a ham and cheese sandwich at a kosher deli?
The Topeka, Kansas, public school district thought it would be good to celebrate the anniversary of the famous United States Supreme Court case that it lost, Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), which put an end to the "separate but equal" doctrine and launched a major advance in racial integration. The idea was to have First Lady Michelle Obama address the graduates of the three high schools in one large joint graduation ceremony, to be held in an eight thousand seat auditorium. It seems a clever idea--but that the graduating students and their parents have apparently objected strenuously. It is perhaps inevitable that someone is going to claim that the objections are based on racial prejudice; it is thus important that we understand the claimed bases for them. There are two.
The first looks a bit suspicious. The claim is that this plan will limit the number of people who can attend the graduation, that there will of course be ticketed seating which will prevent some from coming who would otherwise wish to do so. However, the total number of graduates in last year's graduating classes of the three schools (Topeka, Highland Park, and Topeka West High Schools) was seven hundred forty-four students (three hundred thirty-five, one hundred seventy, and two hundred thirty-nine, respectively). If we allow two hundred fifty seats for faculty, school staff, Obama staff, and press, that still leaves over seven thousand seats--nine tickets per student. Most indoor high school graduations in my experience have two to four tickets per student.
But then, that is probably why most high school graduation ceremonies are held outside, weather permitting. Security for the First Lady is certainly easier if it is indoors. It might be that students would have more than eight or nine family members in attendance at the expected outdoor ceremony, even if they would only be issued two or three tickets for the weather-contingency indoor ceremony. So this might be a legitimate complaint.
The other objection is that graduation is supposed to be about the students, who have worked twelve years to reach this goal and deserve their moment of glory. It should not be about politics, whether about a famous civil rights case decided before their parents and maybe some of their grandparents were born or about the first black First Lady of the United States and her husband. Is this a valid objection?
There may be more merit here. Certainly it is usually the case that someone is asked to speak at graduation, and that there is a certain prestige to having a famous person do so. On the other hand, valedictorians and salutatorians are generally recognized at these events and given the opportunity to speak. Will they have three valdedictorians and three salutatorians, or will the three high schools compete, four of these candidates eliminated from the honor because of the joint graduation? What of other honors--which band will play, which chorus sing, how many awards will be included? Even apart from the spotlight on the First Lady, students who would have been noticed at their school graduation will be lost in the crowd at this larger ceremony--and longer, as well, as the three schools together sport more than twice as many graduates as the largest, more than four times as the smallest. In many ways, this larger ceremony reduces the honor to the majority of those graduating, who are now graduating less in front of their peers and more in front of strangers.
I do not know that there is no racial motivation here; I do not know that there is no political motivation, no objection to the Obama administration's policies and practices. I do know that there is a valid objection to the plan, raised by some of those for whom the ceremony is intended to recognize their achievements. That cannot be dismissed lightly.
Perhaps some compromise should be considered. I know that before college Commencement I attended Baccalaureate. Perhaps the Board of Education should hold a separate ceremony in their eight thousand seat auditorium, giving tickets to the graduating class and their families, to mark the anniversary of the landmark decision, and then hold the three regular graduations in their own schools as usual. We can honor our history without taking the honor away from our successful students who are ignorant beneficiaries of that history, students whose parents, possibly whose grandparents, never knew segregated schools, for whom the celebration is almost as insignificant as a Civil War Memorial Service.
It was in an important, but not national, legislative session. A woman from another party was speaking of the need to address women's issues, and she was heckled by a Liberal Democrat. The man rather offensively challenged why the speaker was not married and pushing out babies. It created quite a public uproar, including an online petition to have the heckler censored by his own party leaders.
It also gives us an example of the problem with labels: this occurred in mid June in the Tokyo Japan legislature, where the government is led by a party called the Liberal Democratic Party. This has happened several times over many years; Japan has been experiencing negative population growth since before World War II, along with the accompanying aging population and the economic problems this creates. To many in Japan, a woman's raison d'etre is to have children, and if she is not doing this, she has no value in society no matter what else she does. (Author's footnote: my sister worked overseas for a Japanese international bank, but left because advancement was limited to those who, as she put it, "have slanty eyes, are men, and are born in Japan". It's a very real misogyny.)
The shocking part, for us, is not so much that such a comment was made in a Japanese legislature, but that it was made by a member of what is called the Liberal Democratic Party. In America, liberal Democrats consider themselves the champions of women's rights, and any suggesting that a woman ought to be married and having children would probably be drummed out of the party. That the two groups have the same label clearly tells us nothing of what either believes or what policies they pursue. Nor should we, as voters, support someone simply for wearing a particular label--whether Democrat or Republican by party affiliation, whether self-described or slandered as Progressive or Tea Party, the label is a label.
Every writer knows, or eventually learns, that genre is not a writer's concept but a publisher's concept: people who sell books, or movies, or television shows call them horror or science fiction or romance in order to sell product. They want you to think that if you like well-known books by famous authors, you'll also like unknown books by unknown authors who wear the same label. The same is true in the political world: political managers want you to vote for candidates they manage based on labels. Yet few of us (as we have noted in connection with coalition government) agree completely with the platform of any particular party; we are comparison shopping for that platform which best matches our position both in particular issues and in specific emphases. There is a degree to which supporting the party with whom you most agree is a wise choice; but it is also important to be certain that the specific candidate for whom you are voting agrees with you on the issues you think important--after all, it is entirely possible that you and your candidate both agree with seventy percent of the party platform and think half of that is worth a fight, but he does not agree with most of the issues for which you want him to fight.
A label is ultimately just a marketing tool. That someone is called a Liberal Democrat, or a Tea Party Conservative, tells you very little about what the candidate actually believes. As we approach our national election, pay attention to what the candidates genuinely support, and not just what labels they wear.
We have elsewhere addressed the problem of Japanese negative population growth, and its implications for us.
I am about six feet tall, and it frequently happens when I am in stores that shorter people will ask me to get something from the top shelf for them. In fact, I've taken to kidding them that short people always ask me to get things from the top shelf for them and never offer to get things off the bottom shelf for me. It is a long way down, after all, and I'm not so limber as I once was.
Michelle Obama--our First Lady--is about an inch shorter than that at five feet eleven inches. That is very tall for an American woman. She reports that on her recent covert shopping trip to Target someone approached her and asked her to get something off the top shelf. From the description, it sounds like it was a little old lady; but there's more. Mrs. Obama notes that it was a white lady.
I have had at least scores of people, most of them female, probably the majority of them passed middle aged, request such assistance. I'm sure some have been white. Some have been black, some Oriental or Hispanic--I don't usually pay attention to what race they are. Yet Mrs. Obama is quite persuaded that the fact that this little white lady asked her to reach the top shelf demonstrates that Americans are racist--as if the request from the short white woman was based entirely on the fact that she is black and not at all on the fact that she is tall.
I assure you that it has never once occurred to me that anyone asked me to get something off a high shelf for her because I was white, or because she was black. In that situation, it is obvious to a child that what matters is how tall you are, not your color nor your ethnic background. I do not generally think in terms of what color people are. That's what it means to be "not racist"--to ignore what race people are in your dealings with them. Yet Michelle Obama is so overly sensitive about her own race that she perceives it as racist that someone would ask her, an unusually tall woman, to reach something that is out of reach of the petitioner. It never occurs to her that such a request might be based on her height, without any recognition of her race--and nothing in the telling of the story suggests that the woman even noticed that this was a tall black woman, or that it mattered to her.
Note, then, that it is actually Michelle Obama who is racist in this story. The First Lady apparently has such a negative attitude toward white people that she perceives their actions to be racially motivated even when there is an obvious alternative explanation that makes more sense. One is reminded of Samuel L. Jackson's Zeus Carver character in Die Hard with a Vengeance: as Bruce Willis' John McClane asks if Carver can start a car they're commandeering to continue their chase, Carver gets offended (as only Jackson can), saying, "What, you think just because I'm black I know how to hotwire a car?" McClane answers, "You're a locksmith, aren't you?" It is in that case the black man who is racist, because he assumes that the white man is stereotyping him. It is the same with our First Lady: her story says that she so disrespects white people that she thinks we are all acting from racist motives in all our interactions with black people, even when the evidence is otherwise. What is even more embarrassing is that she apparently does not realize how foolish her claim sounds. On paper, she is smarter than that; she just has a blind spot, a racial prejudice, that causes her to see perfectly innocent actions of other people as discriminating against her.
There are many people in this country who have that mindset, the belief that other people are against them because of race, or color, or religion, or ethnicity, or some other identification. The bad news is, all those people are racist to the degree that they believe other races are against theirs. The good news is, they are mostly wrong--most of us do not care what color or race you are, and if we ask you to get something off the top shelf for us, it is because we think there is some reason why you are better able to do so--such as that you are taller.
Many pundits are complaining at the moment that American citizens do not vote. What most of them seem to mean, though, is that members of certain "minority" groups (the word includes women, who happen to outnumber non-women) who would be expected on a demographic basis to support Democrats do not vote with the result that Republicans win elections in districts where Democrats ought to outnumber them. It is probably true that older people tend to be more conservative (we have seen more of life and more readily recognize that what is called progress is often undesirable) and also tend to perceive voting as more important so make the time to do it. Polls tend to suggest that a greater percentage of Republicans (and independent conservatives) vote than Democrats (and independent liberals). The result, we are told is that the majority of Americans (that is, those who do not vote) are underrepresented in government.
This seems an oddly timed complaint, in some ways. After all, the current President of the United States is a Democrat, accused by some conservatives of being a Socialist and certainly a progressive in many of his policies. Further, when he took office his party held both the Senate and the House of Representatives--and that both houses are now held by conservatives is at least as likely to be because the majority of Americans opposed the directions in which the country was headed as to be because those who were satisfied with it did not bother to vote. Yet it has long been true that if every registered voter who did not vote in a Presidential election had instead voted for Mickey Mouse, the Disney icon would be the next President of the United States. For whatever reason, the majority of Americans do not vote. Sometimes it is apathy, that they see no difference between the candidates; sometimes it is disillusionment, that they do not believe their vote matters; sometimes it is simply disorganization, that it is inconvenient to take the time and go to the place to vote. Apparently they either are not sufficiently dissatisfied with the outcomes of elections or not sufficiently concerned about them to motivate them to change anything.
The specific quesiton, though, is whether these people are therefore unequally represented, whether the fact that they do not vote means the officials actually elected to not represent them. I do not know whether that is true, but I am inclined to think that the proof adduced for this is dubious. Our attention is called to Ferguson, Missouri, where in a recent election the overwhelmingly black population did not come to the polls in droves to express their outrage over their treatment by white government leading to the shooting of black (and, let's face it, criminal) Michael Brown to replace the five (of six) white council members with blacks. They only replaced two of these, making the government racially equal, not representative of the racial mix of the population. If the population is largely black, we are told, the government ought also to be largely black; any other outcome is evidence of a discriminatory result, whatever the cause.
The article quotes Zoltan L. Hajnal, author of America’s Uneven Democracy, who writing in the Washington Post reportedly said:
“If we could increase local turnout, we might eliminate almost one quarter of the underrepresentation of Latinos and Asian Americans on city councils across the country,
What is wrong with this thinking?
The end of racial prejudice cannot be identified by fulfilled quotas, or proportionate representation of the type suggested. That viewpoint is itself racially biased. The proof that racial discrimination is over will be that no one pays any attention to the racial or ethnic background of those government officials, or of anyone else. The fact that a black man was elected President of the United States was certainly a step in the right direction, but it would only have been proof that discrimination had ended if no one had noticed that it had happened. On top of that, it is irrational to think that blacks can only be adequately represented by blacks, or Latinos by Latinos, or Asians by Asians, as much as to think that whites can only be represented by whites, Christians by Christians, Catholics by Catholics, or Jews by Jews--or for that matter, that Irish Americans, Italian Americans, Polish Americans, and the wealth of ethnically diverse Europeans in America can only be adequately represented by persons of their same ethnic background. What matters, what should matter to voters, is whether specific individuals have the same ethic, the same viewpoint, the same values, as those they represent, and whether they have the skills and abilities to do the job well. To elect a candidate because he is black or she is a woman is as foolish as to oppose such a candidate for that reason.
So what the pundits are missing in all this is that apparently the predominantly black voters in Ferguson either believed that the white men they sent to serve on the council were the best available for the job, or that they were at least as good as anyone else available. That two black men and a black woman now serve on that council is a positive sign only to the degree that we perceive that as evidence that well-qualified persons from these groups were able to present themselves to the public and win election. Yet if the best person for the job happens to be a white male, he ought not be excluded on that basis any more than if she is a Filipino lesbian. One or the other might not represent the views of individual voters, but we ought not second-guess election results based on whether the people who win them are from the right demographic.