Discrimination and prejudice have long been buzzwords in any discussion of race relations, but these words have gotten a bad rap. The truth is that discriminating and prejudging are natural human actions that we all engage in many times daily. Every time we make a choice or decision, we base it on a combination of what past experience has taught us and what will likely be best for us currently or going forward. Hundreds or thousands of times each day we do this, often in a split second without conscious consideration of how or why we arrived at our decision. We may choose between fast food or something healthier prepared at home, or we may choose between watching a “reality” show or a documentary. Each of these decisions, along with the subsequent positive or negative outcome, is logged by our impressive human brains to add to the lifetime of experiences from which we draw information to guide our next decisions. This is one of the most crucial capabilities that defines us as human, and separates us from lesser species. Because some decisions can mean the difference between survival and death, the ability to accumulate experience (aka wisdom) and to use it to guide future choices is what has allowed us to shape our environment to ensure our survival and dominate our world. Discrimination and prejudice are very necessary human capabilities developed over thousands of years. Such inherently human traits which are so much a part of our make-up as to be unavoidable and which are potentially so vital to our survival should never be cause for shame.
This process touches every aspect of our lives, not just inanimate objects like food and television programs. Like it or not, we naturally all discriminate and prejudge in our interpersonal relationships as well. We choose who we want as friends or not, who we want to date or marry or not, who we want to do business with or not, who we wish to employ or not, and so on into infinity. Even deciding whether to click the like button on Facebook or not is an interpersonal decision requiring discrimination. So why should we be surprised or ashamed when we apply the natural human process of discrimination to our relationships with people belonging to one group or another such as a race, religion, political party, or other association?
The answer is we should not be surprised, and if there is any cause for shame it should not be that we have developed an expectation based on prior experience (wisdom) with members of group X. If there is cause for shame, it is that we have denied another person their individuality simply by viewing them as a member of group X. When we make a snap judgment about someone based on skin color or whether they go to a mosque or a church or a bar, we ignore the possibility that they have developed character and traits quite different from what we may expect from a member of group X.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream that his children would “one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” I think he got it right. I believe the best we can strive for is to recognize that individuals must be judged on their own deeds and behaviors and that, despite what our expectations may be, people are the one animal most capable and likely to confound expectations. Although the human process of discrimination is ingrained, I think we must all acknowledge the existence and the source of our preconceived notions (prejudices) and simultaneously realize that lumping a person into a group prevents us from allowing the individual to demonstrate his own personal character by which he can then be properly judged.
Despite my belief that discrimination and prejudice may not always be used wisely or fairly in interactions between individuals, I still insist that it is ingrained human nature that should not (and realistically cannot) be legitimately interfered with by government unless the behavior includes physical violence, theft, or fraud. Private human interaction needs to be separate from public interaction. Simply put, the government should deal fairly and equally with all individuals (but it does not do so), and otherwise should leave decisions among private people up to the individual. If government stands behind claims of equality, fairness, truth, justice, and the American way, it is necessarily constrained by impartiality or it loses credibility (as it has done daily since inception). Impartiality is not required of individuals, though lack of it may damage their credibility as well. Government legitimacy requires it be held to a higher standard.
As free individuals, we each claim the natural human right to like or dislike, endorse or discredit, affirm or deny, choose or refuse, love or hate whomever and whatever we see fit, and for any reason we see fit. So in my opinion, all government laws and regulations that deal with activities unrelated to fraud, theft, or violence or deal with activities not specifically performed by government are illegitimate attempts at thought control and social engineering that go directly against basic human nature and realistically only exacerbate the root problem of denied individuality.
As an individual consumer, I can choose exactly which merchants I will or will not do business with for whatever reason, but as a private business owner the reverse is not true because government has injected itself into a private transaction where no physical violence, theft, or fraud exists and therefore it has no legitimate jurisdiction. Is it wise or fair for me as a business owner to refuse to transact with members of group X? Probably not, but if I am denied that right, what has happened to my ingrained human freedom to choose based upon how my experience guides me? If I would not by choice associate with, employ, do business with, or generally accept members of group X , then who believes that having government force me to do so will lead me to a more favorable attitude? More likely such policies only serve to permanently label a person as a member of a group thereby denying his individuality and increasing enmity between groups as well as the chance of violence in general. Favoritism on the part of government never levels the playing field; it merely weakens government credibility by revealing the myth of impartiality, and it promotes the desires of group X at the expense of all individuals’ freedom to choose. The list of personal interactions into which the government presumes to interfere is becoming unmanageably large.
This is that line I keep referring to in my rants. The boundary between public and private that government (and individuals) shouldn’t cross, but can’t seem to see. It is that same line that government enlists your neighbors to assist it in crossing by convincing enough of them (a majority) that someone else’s private individual natural human rights can be legitimately limited for the greater good. Nonsense! Rights belong to individual people by birthright and cannot be legitimately taken away by majority (mob) rule. This is the misperception that has eventually destroyed every major democracy in history. It is this same public/private boundary that many individuals fail to recognize and honor as well. Each of us has a legitimate sphere of influence that distinctly applies only to our private lives. We each have our convictions and there is no harm in enforcing them in our own lives or within our legitimate sphere of influence such as our immediate family, our church, our business, and our friends. But as soon as we step outside our private lives and into the public arena of politics, the validity of imposing our convictions ends. The moment we enlist government authority to forcefully impose them upon others who do not share them is the moment we cross over from advocacy and private choice and begin to promote tyranny. This is one of the main problems with our nation- that democracy is the tyranny of the majority.
Currently Paula Deen is in hot water for discriminatory remarks she made nearly 30 years ago. I will support her right as an individual to stand in her own business and believe and speak what her experience has taught her, but I won’t pretend it was fair, or wise, or without consequences. But the consequences should be in her private life, and no government interference or punishment is appropriate. Meanwhile the atmosphere of political correctness resulting from government interference in our personal matters won’t even allow us to have an honest dialogue about discrimination and race relations. And an endless battle to win majority public opinion rages on between group B and group W, but the casualties are always individuals and their rights. Ms. Deen, when viewed as a member of group W, seems deserving of attack, but when seen as an individual sincerely remorseful for her conduct, she seems quite a bit more forgivable. As for me, I have stopped identifying myself with groups and I’m embracing my individuality instead. I had a dream that one day we could each live in a nation where individuals are judged, not by which group they belong to, but by the content of their individual character. Who says there is strength in numbers?