Doesn’t it make you angry when someone treats you unfairly just because you’re black, brown, white, a woman, a man, homosexual, transgender, older, younger, disabled, bald, long-haired, short, fat, poor, wealthy, national origin, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. ? Doesn’t it make you angry? What would Dr. Martin Luther King say?
In 1790, George Washington said “The government of the United States …gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution, no assistance….” In fact, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and a few other pieces of civil rights legislation such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, outlaw discrimination based on: 1) race, 2) color, 3) sex, 4) religion, 5) national origin, 6) age, and 7) handicap. However, there are many other bases for discrimination which are not illegal and are not obvious and therefore are much more difficult to deal with than those which are illegal. Because I’ve had a lot of experience in this area I thought I’d share my views on how discrimination works and how best to deal with it.
My understanding of discrimination began in 1975 when I became a collateral-duty (side-job) Hispanic Employment Program Manager for my Federal bureau, which took about 20% of my official work time. For the other 80% of my work-time, I was a Environmental Planner. With help from our Field Office employees, we were able to increase Hispanic-American employment in my small bureau from one person to 32 Hispanic-Americans so that my 500-employee bureau was 6% Hispanic-American when I left it. I received awards for my work from the Director of my bureau as well as from the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior. When I went to work for another bureau in the U.S. Department of the Interior as a Program Analyst, I also took a collateral-duty (side-job) as my bureau’s Collateral-Duty EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Counselor, counseling about a dozen Equal Employment Opportunity complaintants, and received my bureau’s first “Outstanding Counselor” award in 1985. Finally and importantly, at age 25 years, prior to both of those experiences, I had a large brain tumor removed which resulted in 1/2 of my face being paralyzed and numb. Suddenly I looked physically challenged and was easily-identifiable. This situation gave me the unique experience of being able to compare how I was treated when I looked like most other people versus how I was treated when I looked differently and was easily identifiable as being physically challenged.
HOW EXTENSIVE A PROBLEM IS DISCRIMINATION
In the past, discrimination has led to lynchings because of race, national origin, religion, and other differences; it has led to the torture and slaughter of six million innocent Jews by the Nazis and the murder of 3000 innocent Americans by Al Qaeda; and to many other atrocities through the ages, including right up to the present with “Flash-mob” attacks and the “Knockout Game.” Today, however, allegations of racism have become politicized and therefore many, though unfortunate, are false, like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin. A quick and easy way to determine most bogus allegations of racism is to first check if the accuser is a politician or a political adviser or pundit or works in the “accusations of racism shakedown” industry…and if she/he does, then you can assume the allegation is false. Racism and discrimination does still exist today but it’s a tiny fraction of what it was back in the 1950’s and before, though many people, especially politicians, exploit racial differences in an attempt to gain votes and with it the power and money that can accompany political positions.
HOW DISCRIMINATION DEVELOPS
I believe that discrimination evolves because of three phenomena: 1) quick and easy identification of the group being discriminated against; 2) mind set; and 3) selective perception.
Easy identification is the reason why African-Americans, as well as women and most minorities, still are the recipients of discrimination, though nothing like the situation was even 50-years ago. The same is true of the fat, bald, unattractive, elderly, disabled, and political minorities.
“Mind-set” I believe is the second phenomenon that enables discrimination to occur. It develops when one’s mind, because of stereotyping or some other reason, thinks along certain lines or is “set” to the extent that, even when new contradictory information is brought to light, it is discounted or simply not considered or even not perceived. Another name for mind-set is “paradigms”.
Once a mind-set exists, selectively perceiving phenomena within the area of the “set” is called “selective perception”. With discrimination, one would selectively perceive only those phenomena that reinforced the mind-set.
HOW TO HANDLE DISCRIMINATION
What should you do if you experience discrimination? Getting angry at the injustice is a common reaction. Some may even think that they now have the right to retaliate. I can recall a number of massacres motivated by feelings of persecution and self-righteousness in seeking revenge. However, when the retaliation avenue is pursued, all parties become victims, especially those exacting the revenge. To cite just one example, if you discriminate against me, and I become angry and/or vengeful, you would actually now be controlling my behavior by changing my attitude. Therefore, a much healthier approach is to say to yourself, “People make the most absurd assumptions based on very superficial and erroneous analyses. They aren’t thinking intelligently.” Also, “people can think anything they want about me but if they act on their beliefs, then I’ll take appropriate action, from simply shrugging it off to considering the entire range of legal actions and implementing whatever is appropriate for the situation”.
I have seen firsthand how easy identifiability, mind-set, and selective perception work. For me they are not simply theories you might read about. Up to age 25, when I looked like most others, I was treated one way. After 25, when I looked obviously disabled, I was treated differently, except from my family and friends. And even though most people were not even aware of what they were doing, people’s good intentions didn’t help much.
Dr. Martin Luther King has told us to “judge people on the content of their character”. If we do otherwise, we should remember how discrimination works so that we can prevent ourselves from unwittingly engaging in it. Anyone who looks or is different is at risk of being the victim of some discrimination. The healthiest way to deal with discrimination is to try to understand and forgive those who wrong you. This will make you a bigger person as well as add years to your lifespan. To quote Mahatma Gandhi, “Hatred can be overcome only by love”.