Most people can agree that bigotry is wrong. But just because most of us think something is morally corrupt does not mean that government should be step in and create rules to prevent it from happening. There are plenty of things that I believe are wrong but have no desire to prevent others from doing. I enjoy drinking beer, but there are people out there who think I’m sinning by enjoying a beer or two on a Saturday night.
What’s my point? Government has no business being in the business of regulating morality so long as an individual’s actions do not damage the life or property of another. This is the case even when we agree that the given ban would prevent immoral activity from occurring.
Various levels of government in the United States have put bans on different forms of discrimination. The goals of this type of legislation are usually to eliminate racism, sexism, etc. One of the problems I see with this is that while it might put a stop to some bigoted actions, it doesn’t put a stop the actual bigotry itself. Instead, it only builds up frustration and resentment, including from people who aren’t even bigots.
Before I go any deeper into the discussion, it’s important to define the word “discrimination.” Discrimination has taken a very negative connotation these days, which I feel is unfair. Discrimination in and of itself is a neutral word. It is the vehicle of choice. If presented the choice between eating an apple and an orange, you discriminate against the apple because you prefer the taste of the orange. When you dress yourself in the morning, you choose the long sleeve shirt over the short sleeves because it’s supposed to be on the cool side during the day and you don’t want to feel chilly.
When discrimination is morally wrong
In today’s world, if I’m a business owner, it would be illegal for me to turn black people away from my restaurant on the basis of the color of their skin. If my motivation is racism, then of course my actions are immoral. Forcing me to give them my business does not make me any less of a racist. And unfortunately for my black patrons, they will probably have no idea that they are giving their money to support the business of a racist. Does anyone really win in this situation?
For me, if I know that someone hates me, whether it is for a good or completely irrational reason, I don’t want to give that person my money. I want to spend my money at a place where I am welcome. And on the larger scale, I want to know that the businesses I give my money to aren’t bigots. I don’t want to legitimize a company that hates women or gays or whomever.
Let’s pretend that all discrimination laws were terminated and CVS pharmacies said that they would no longer serve Asian people. Given the climate of today’s society where bigotry is usually frowned upon, openly bigoted business would likely not survive. How many of you would still shop at CVS? How long before CVS would go out of business or be forced to change its policies?
But if CVS continues to do well and people don’t seem to care, then we’ve got a bigger problem on our hands. That would illustrate very clearly that our society has some major issues that we as members of the society, not government, would need to fix.
Even still, Asians are a significant part of the American consumer base and will likely still want and need to purchase items at drug stores. This would open up the opportunity for a competitor like Rite Aid to advertise their willingness to serve anyone regardless of race or ethnicity. Rite Aid would increase their business due to all of the new customers who are not allowed to shop at CVS. More money would also come from people who are so disgusted with CVS’s policies that they would boycott the store.
Now look at the worst case scenario. What happens if all of the drug stores decide not to serve Asians and the majority of consumers either agrees or don’t care? Surely these Asian people would still need and desire to use drug stores, so this opens up a niche for someone to open their own pharmacy to serve these customers. This essentially happens in places with a very high density of one ethnicity anyway and those businesses tend to survive as any other would.
You should now be asking “What if I’m an Asian with no one within 300 miles to offer me the pharmaceutical services that I need?” If you are to resort to using force to acquire those things that you need, the implication is that the victim of your force does not actually own his or her private property. The property is subject to the will of another entity. This means that your own property is also subject to the will of others. If you aren’t the ultimate controller of your property, you’re in a place where people do not like you, and you’ve given them the authority to rule over your property, you will probably end up with little to no property. If the use of force is okay for you to use to acquire the property that you want, an equal force is okay to use against you in the same manner.
Look at it from the other direction. If you are a business owner targeted for bigotry and no one wants to purchase your goods or services, it severely hinders your ability to acquire the resources necessary to sustain a reasonable life. Would you be justified to use force to get customers?
Admittedly, this is still a bad situation for you, but there are ways to overcome these problems. This article, however, is neither the time nor place to go over these possibilities. I challenge you to think of ways yourself for the time being.
When discrimination is not immoral
Since discrimination as previously defined is simply the vehicle of one’s decision-making, discrimination occurs routinely in everyday business life. When a company hires a new employee, they discriminate based on a number of criteria, which could sometimes be on the basis of race, gender, or other physical characteristics. But the motivation isn’t always based on bigotry; the motivation could be simply to maximize profit or to key in on a target demographic.
Let’s take a look at a few examples.
The first example is bars. When it’s a sports bar or serving a younger age group, what is usual trend of the types of bartenders they hire? They are usually young, attractive women. The bar owners are discriminating based on physical attractiveness. Is it shallow and/or chauvinistic? I don’t think so—those are the bartenders the owners believe will bring in the most amount of money. The pretty bartender probably doesn’t smile and talk to you because she likes you, she wants you to buy more drinks and leave her good tips.
Here’s a different example. Say you own some sort of business where the front desk plays an important role in gaining you business. You own the business in a predominantly black neighborhood. You might hire a black person to fill that role over a white person (who may even be slightly more qualified) because the black person immediately relates to your potential customers better than the white person, thus giving you the chance at more business. You don’t make the decision because you don’t like white people, you’re making a purely “business decision.” Under anti-discrimination laws, you would not be allowed to do that.
Now use the example of an apartment complex. This apartment complex is in a poor, rough area. You make the decision that you want to rent to only single Hispanic mothers in an effort to give them and their children a safe, clean place to live and grow up. You are discriminating against men, married women, single women without children, and non-Hispanic women. Despite your noblest of intentions, you’re not allowed to do that. Is that just?
Finally, you are the gay owner of a reception hall. You receive notice that a fundamentalist “Christian” church that hates gay people wants to rent your hall. Under these laws, you cannot deny them your hall because your reason is you don’t like their religion even though you are more than justified.
Anti-discrimination laws do have good intentions, which is why the criticism of them is met with such hostility. Good intentions, however, are by no means a guarantee of good results. Submission to these rules is an acknowledgement that your own private property isn’t really private at all. Your business becomes subject to the business of whichever entity is allowed by government to dictate the rules of how you may use your property.
An honest look at the consequences of such laws is required for our society to move away from any and every sort of bigotry. Not allowing discrimination for any reason doesn’t stop bigotry, it only masks the bigotry that exists. It’s better to out the bigots so that those of us who abhor the practice (which I think is the majority of us do) are able to either shame them or boycott them into irrelevance or change.