Equal rights legislation is important

Equal rights legislation is important

(Published 2 Nov 1999 in the BDH as "Society needs laws to limit discrimination")

I can definitely see where Hans Allhoff (``When toleration loses its loveliness'', 1 Nov) is coming from in his desire that proprietors of businesses should be able to discriminate as they will, and let peer pressure sort things out. But I feel I have to raise a few objections to his argument.

Early on, he expresses "certain objections to the Civil Rights Act.... Racist restaurant owners should not be obligated, legally, to serve African Americans," after expressing similar sentiments in regards to homosexuals, Braves fans, etc. Later, he asserts that this discrimination does not reduce homosexuals (and by extension, any discriminated-against party) to second-class citizens. This is true, but only under one very important condition: the discriminators cannot make up a majority (or even a strong or lopsided minority) of people.

I'll return to the example of the racists. If one racist dentist refuses service, and he's alone in his racism, it will all work out as Hans described. But what if all the best dentists in town are racist? What if all the dentists in town are racist? In that case, an African American with a toothache is just SOL. Extend this racism to, say, the level that existed in the South thirty, forty years ago, and you have... second-class citizens. The fact that the government is required to pay them welfare is slim consolation. If a majority of people in an area (or maybe just a majority of the medium-to-wealthy people) discriminate heavily against some group, that group suffers a radical decline in their quality of life.

Ultimately, the purpose of laws like the Civil Rights Act is not to make the bigots respect the minorities. That may come with time or not at all, but until it does, the laws protect against unreasonable attacks on the ability of a person to truly participate in society and pursue happiness to its fullest.

Feel free to link to this essay, but do so at its original link: http://www.blahedo.org/essays/tolerance.html. Feel free to quote this essay in whole or in part, but please attribute it to me and (if on the web) link to the original.

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Don Blaheta / web@blahedo.org

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