A few years ago, I saw one of the borough newsletters had come in the mail. I was thumbing through it when one of the pages caught my eye. They were advertising about the borough Human Rights Commission (HRC), which is a team of people that deals with cases of discrimination of “protected” groups. They needed one more person on the HRC to round it out and it said that they were specifically looking for a “person of color.” I thought that it was ironic that a group designed to stamp out discrimination would explicitly practice racial discrimination, so I applied.
I knew that I had no shot of winning the position, not because I am white, but because I was using the interview as an opportunity to protest them. The borough I grew up in is very much on the left on the political spectrum, so I expected the panel that was to be interviewing me would be very sympathetic to the anti-discrimination laws the HRC was tasked to enforce. When they asked me why I wanted to be a part of the HRC, I explained that while I understood their good intentions, there are serious ethical issues with forcing people to make transactions that they do not want to make. Furthermore, there are some situations where discrimination is not unethical and the HRC forcing people to not discriminate in those situations would be obviously incorrect. Some of the interviewers acknowledged that I made a good point with this but that this “just” discrimination was still illegal.
I also made it clear that what motivated me to apply for the position on the HRC was their obviously discriminatory comment on their advertisement that they were looking for a “person of color.” The leading interviewer expressed regret over that and said had he known it was written that way, he would have never allowed it to go to print. It was good to at least hear that.
To be fair, nearly everyone was respectful of me and my views (although the mayor could not understand why I would find it odd that an organization meant to fight discrimination would itself racially discriminate). Towards the end of the interview after I said my part, the lead interviewer asked me whether I could give my word that I would follow the Pennsylvania State laws regarding discrimination. Since I did not believe that they were ethical, I said no.
This was basically his way of getting me to disqualify myself from the position. Why would they give the job to someone who tells them that he will not do the job? Yet we all agreed that part of the job entailed doing something that was wrong. But since that wrong thing was part of the law, we should do it anyway? This is precisely what bothers me about this whole situation. He seemed proud to be the executor of the law even though he knew that sometimes it was not the right thing to do. And furthermore, he did not want people on his team that would think for themselves before blindly doing whatever the law said.
This is the attitude that harms society. We can do better. All it takes is being your own conscience.