After much conversation regarding the Emanicipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Ammendment in 1863 and 1865, respectively, the Congress of the United States was locked in a tedious conversation about the rights of former black slaves. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 would go on to permit citizenship for men and women “of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.” This formal abolition of unequal treatment towards persons on the basis of his or her skin color made it illegal to discriminate against persons in housing or jobs on the basis of race. Since 1866, the United States has provided equal benefits and access to law to its imported black population that it has promised to its European ancestors.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, passed by Congress nearly a century after the initial predecessor, is a landmark in American history, and removed segregation from both public and private sectors based on “based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
To understand this federal law, however, one must understand what discrimination actually is and what it is not. The word “discriminate” has been tossed around by both conservatives and liberals in political conversations, and it nearly always possesses negative undertones.
When we discuss the topic of discrimination, we are referring to the treatment of individuals in a negative way on the basis of their race, gender, national origin, disability, age, pregnancy, medical background, religion, or even genetic information. To discriminate against an individual is to taken into account one’s private values and ideologies when dealing with individuals different than ourselves. Discrimination is tantamount to discernment, whereby one applies experience and data to a situation to provide a judgment.
A very popular definition of discriminate is to “recognize a distinction,” or to make a decision influenced by one’s prejudices against those who hold conflicting values or live their lives in a way contrary to the approval of a discriminator. Often, discriminators are discriminated against, making literally everyone on either side of the “Discrimination Fence” discriminatory, in a technical sense. Whenever one makes a decision based on personal values that naturally conflict with those that are hand, he or she is discriminating. So discrimination should not automatically be assumed as a derogative action. When one chooses not to sit in a broken chair, for example, he or she discriminates by rejecting the chair on the basis of its failure to accomplish that which one wishes it to do. And he or she is better of because of it.
The late Anglo-American writer Christopher Hitchens writes, “It especially annoys me when racists are accused of ‘discrimination.’ The ability to discriminate is a precious facility; by judging all members of one ‘race’ to be the same, the racist precisely shows himself incapable of discrimination.” Everybody either knowingly or unknowingly discriminates against particular groups of people or situations, because humans instinctively enact judgments to preserve their own safety.
Allow me to provide an example of discrimination that shouldn’t be overly controversial. Consider an instance where you are visiting a hostel, where you will be sharing a room with six other men in a room packed with bunk beds. There is no real privacy in such rooms, save for the single restroom, and there is always a possibility that your private property (your suitcase, glasses, wallet, keys, etc.) could be stolen by those residing in whichever room you choose.
You are then given the ability to choose between two rooms to stay overnight. The roommates in the first room are wealthy, well-groomed men of similar ethnic descent as yourself, and greet you in your native language. The roommates in the second room are migrants from a foreign country, don’t have a dollar to their name, and appear to not have showered in weeks. They do not speak your language, and communication would be difficult.
Clearly, as humans are instinctively tribalistic and better identify with people whom they can relate to, most would naturally opt for the first room without a second thought. To choose either group, however, is an act of discrimination, because you would be discerning which group of people to prematurely judged based on their appearance. This is not to say that the first party is inevitably be “good” and that the second is “bad,” only that individuals rightly “judge a book by its cover” out of an instinctive desire to survive.
Everybody should have the right to discriminate; that is, all persons have the right to discern who and what they would like to be associated with, which brings up a significant point: freedom from discrimination and how it relates to one’s freedom of association.
I, as an American individual, am endowed with personal liberty that permits me to speak freely, and the United States Supreme Court upheld with NAACP v. Alabama (1958) that freedom of association is an essential part of freedom of speech because, “in many cases, people can engage in effective speech only when they join with others.” This freedom to freely associate with individuals on whatever basis related to orating ideology necessarily provides the freedom to not associate with individuals for the very same reason. If my culture, religion, or sexuality deems it necessary to not associate with entities that are inherently opposed to my own worldview and values, then resisting such a conviction would be a violation of my fundamental human right to freely associate.
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