NLHN Editor’s Note: For many years the labor community has been standing arm in arm with members of the civil rights community. We have been there to fight against racial discrimination. We have been there to fight sexual discrimination. Now I am taking a stand on the issue of racial profiling. Discrimination in any form should never be tolerated.
Way back in 2010, Melissa Nelson was fired from her job as a dental assistant – because she was ‘too attractive’. The Iowa Supreme Court recently upheld the termination, ruling that the dentist’s reason for firing her – he was worried he would try to start an affair with her – was not ‘illegal sex discrimination’ .
Maybe the court didn’t think it was illegal – but it’s still discrimination. “Discrimination” is defined as “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.”
Discrimination based on looks is known as ‘lookism’ – and it is another form of profiling. In one of many studies about ‘lookism’, ABC News put two female actors on the side of the road in front of a broken-down car. Both were wearing the same outfit, but one was better looking than the other. The results were what you might expect: the ‘looker’ had dozens of cars stop to assist her, while the average-looking woman only had a couple of people stop.
I can only wonder what the results would have been, if it had been Trayvon Martin in front of the broken-down car.
Don’t we all agree that discrimination is wrong, whether it is based on looks, sex, or race? In its recent decision severing part of the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court ruled that racism is merely a thing of the past. But last week’s jury verdict in Florida drives a stake through the heart of that belief.
Anyone who thinks that the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case does not have anything to do with race needs to honestly ask themselves the question, would the outcome have been different if the roles were reversed? President Obama answered this question in his recent press briefing.
“If a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.”
President Obama went on to say, “the African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.”
The Martin/Zimmerman case also throws a spotlight on the highly controversial ‘Stand Your Ground’ law – which was spread around the country by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) at the request of the NRA. This ‘Kill at Will’ law allows people to instigate situations that escalate to lethal outcomes.
In the Martin/Zimmerman case, everyone agrees that the dispatcher advised Zimmerman to stay in his car and wait for the police. Instead, Zimmerman confronted the unarmed teenager.
Getting out of his car and confronting Trayvon – was that really something Zimmerman needed to do to survive? Anyone who really believes that needs to ask themselves another question:
(President Obama) “If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?”
Without the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, Zimmerman might have done as the dispatcher advised – and if he had stayed in his car, he would never have had any reason to reach for his weapon.
(President Obama) “I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.”
“If we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?”
Imagine you are meeting a stranger on the street. What will stop him from shooting you, if he happens to be afraid of you? Sadly, this is even more of a risk if you are a member of the African-American community.
President Obama openly admits that many of us are guilty of racial profiling.
“There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator.”
How do we fix this?
First, we need to admit that discrimination and racism still exist in America. We cannot fix something until we openly admit there is still a problem.
Then we need to repeal these ‘kill at will’ laws that legitimize fear and racial profiling. That won’t cure our race issues – but it will be a step in the right direction.
And we need to keep taking steps in the right direction – because, despite what the Supreme Court said, we’re not there yet. We can do better, and we should do better.
As President Obama said when he closed his press conference yesterday, “We’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.”
We need to keep working toward the day when all strangers – even neighborhood watch captains – will look beyond the color of someone else’s skin.