Intolerance for Intolerance

It turns out, Newton county is the site of the latest struggle in our “culture wars.”

I live less than 10 miles from Newton county line.  I grew up in this area, shopped, ate, worked, and went to doctors appointments here. This is my home.  In fact, Rockdale (the county in which I currently live and grew up) was actually carved OUT of Newton county during the mid 19th century for silly local politics reasons.

This is my home, and I am ashamed of my people.  I was raised to be better than this. We are better than this.

Discrimination is wrong.

First, I want to make something clear. Discrimination is not the same as establishing social boundaries.  Discrimination is not the same as being a good judge of character.  It’s NOT discrimination to hire the more experienced or skilled person for a job. It is discrimination to refuse to hire a person because of categories entirely unrelated for the work they are applying to do.  In practical terms, it is logical to refuse to hire a person who is unable to climb a ladder for that window washing job, but discrimination to refuse to hire the same person for a data analysis position. 

Discrimination is determined by two things – both motivation and impact – and discrimination by motivation is something our culture has no problem identifying and condemning. The racism of the KKK, sexist comments, refusing to hire someone because they have an accent or are (insert identity here).   However, discrimination by impact is often unintentional and perpetuated by ignorance, willful naivete, laziness, or a much more subtle form of disrespect.

However, ignoring discriminatory outcomes is equally wrong.

Discrimination by impact is much harder to name or condemn, because the people who engage in this are so likely to have supposedly benign or even positive motivations.

But that does not matter.  Literacy tests required are inherently classist.  “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Rooting for a sports team whose mascot turns a human identity into a caricature and in fact uses a harsh slur to do so is racist.

Some impact-discrimination is even more subtle, but equally malignant. Describing all great leaders as tall, strong, and assertive, but describing strong women as abrasive is sexist. Work dress codes which describe kinky hair as unprofessional, but do not require straight hair to be pulled back to restrained are racist. In fact, there is a legal term for this: disparate impact.  A policy is discriminatory if it has a much stronger adverse impact on one group or another based on a protected identity

Often, those of us who are in the majority cannot see the ways our seemingly unrelated, innocuous, or even beneficial-seeming behaviors actually result in discriminatory outcomes.  When they are pointed out, rather than questioning our demands, we dig in and spend so much time focusing our our supposedly benign or beneficial reasons that we refuse to acknowledge the harm done to those groups impacted by our decisions.  I had a boss once who was a rather sneaky and dishonest bully. When she was called out on bad behavior, she would also deflect the conversation. “Oh, but this project is so good for the (people we served)!”  or “but every head of an organizational agency acts this way, it’s how things are done.”  I never understood why until I realized she genuinely believed everyone is corrupt, willing to do favors for their friends and lying to accomplish important goals.

Most of us believe that we are driven by good motivations, and that is part of the problem.  Your good motivation does not mean your behavior is beneficial, correct, or will have the impact you desire.  But we believe so firmly that our motivations are key that even within activist circles we often police one another in the name of “efficacy.”  That well meaning advice usually goes something like “but if you would stop disrupting the peace, we would be better accepted by the majority and could get more done.” Activists call this “respectability politics.” Anytime we demand that the person asking to be fully included do so only in ways that do not make the already-included feel uncomfortable, we need to question what is really at play.  (We name it as respectability because much of the time, protesters are accused of being disrespectful or impolite because they have the audacity to point out that they have been excluded, bullied, or oppressed.)

Basically, not-being-racist is not enough.

If you are simply avoiding the worst forms of racism, you may or may not actually be perpetuating unintentional impact discrimination.

And the United States of America was founded on some basic principles of non-discrimination.  Although the common narrative about non-conformist-protestant pilgrims fleeing religious persecution may or may not be historically precise, it is a formative myth.  And by formative myth, I mean a story people tell that defines who we are as a people, what we value, how an individual fits within the group, and whom we consider to be our own.

The Mayflower pilgrims left England (and then Holland) so that they could worship in peace. Rhode Island was founded because Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson were exiled from the Plymouth (MA) colony. Maryland was the one place where Catholics were accepted and Pennsylvania a great refuge for the Anabaptist, Mennonites, and Quakers.  Over and over again, the founding of the nation is told as a story about people who just wanted religious freedom.

And I have always been fascinated that when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and eventually the Constitution, this value of religious FREEDOM was what got codified.  This language has been so threatening to many that in our less than 250 year history, there have been more than a dozen organized groups attempting to add an amendment to make the country and government explicitly Christian.  Each have failed, in part because the plain language of the first amendment to the constitution is rather clear.

The U.S. constitution states “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States”

In  Article VI. The first amendment clarifies,  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Honestly, our founding mythology, our written documents, and our history of rejecting “Christian” amendments should be more than enough evidence to reject any signs of religious discrimination.

The state of GEORGIA constitution states “No inhabitant of this state shall be molested in person or property or be prohibited from holding any public office or trust on account of religious opinions; but the right of freedom of religion shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.”

We MUST protect the right all ALL Americans to practice religion as they see fit. And that does not only mean preventing armed militias , massacres , or religious tests for office.

My Christian Faith also calls discrimination wrong: Jesus, In fact, took the time to stop at a well and cross social boundaries to speak with a woman of Samaria… of a religion the Jews considered to be pure heresy! (John 4:7-27)

If you claim that your Christian faith justifies or demands or encourages you from taking up armed or unarmed protest to keep “those other people” out, you are a SHAME to my God, to the BIble, and to Jesus. Go home, pray, and consider Exodus 22:21 AND ACTS 10.

AND lest I be misconstrued, YES, I believe Islam to be GOOD FOR AMERICA, it is a religion of FAITH, PRAYER, FASTING (aka abstinence), CHARITY, and PILGRIMAGE (I.e. devotion to tradition).