Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Private Discrimination, Continued

Commenting on my post on private discrimination, restaurant refugee writes:
The comparison between discrimination based on attire and that based upon race is a false construct. One chooses attire, one does not choose that latter. I understand that the author was making the point that the owners of the establishments cited in the post were practicing a de facto sexism and racism. However that ignores the larger point that business owners have a legitimate interest and prerogative to mandate attire and norms that contribute to the experience of all guests. Does the author similarly take issue with restaurants that require jacket and tie? Tennis clubs that mandate one dress is tennis whites? What about pools that limit swimming attire to that which was designed for that purpose?
I apologize if I was unclear. I support the right of private establishments to set the standards of decorum within their four walls, be it jacket and tie, tennis whites, or no high heels. My point was that some of these standards could be inspired by racism and sexism, and still remain perfectly legal. I return to the example of my former employer, the gay club that didn't allow high heels in the club. The purpose of that rule was never in doubt: it was meant to keep women out. And it worked.

I don't deny refugee's larger point: "One chooses attire, one does not choose [their race or gender]." But the discrimination involved in barring the former rather than the latter is a difference of degree, not of kind. That many women wear high heels to clubs is undeniable, as is the fact that many young black men come to Adams Morgan on a Friday night wearing Timberland boots and baggy clothing. Club owners are counting on the fact that violators of their dress codes will be unwilling to conform to their rules, that they'll just shrug and go somewhere else.

Refugee continues:
The Title of the Civil Rights act the author finds objectionable deals with “public accommodations” and provides that no business that provides such accommodations may discriminate. The author makes the libertarian position on the matter clear: discrimination is immoral but government should not prohibit private business from doing it. Let us suppose that the author is right. So when I hang a sign in my restaurant that says “Whites not served here,” I would be within my rights. If a white person enters in spite of that sign, I ask him/her to leave, s/he refuses, what then? Shall I call the police? Am I authorized to forcibly remove him/her? Shall the police arrest that person for trespassing? Shall we spend government monies to prosecute people in the aid of racism?
My answer to refugee's hypothetical is an unequivocal yes, it would be within his rights as the owner to keep white people out of his establishment. If the white person in question refused to leave the restaurant, refugee could call the police to remove him (just as an Adams Morgan club owner could for someone flouting their dress code). The question is, why would anyone want to patronize an establishment that openly discriminates against them? And would there not be a public backlash against any business that was so openly racist or sexist?

As for the expenditure of "government monies to prosecute people in the aid of racism," those monies are in part provided by the racist business owners via their taxes. I know it's hard to swallow, but even despicable individuals have the right to the protection of their property rights and the standards of trade they see fit to enforce.

All trade entails certain conditions between both parties, be it buyer or seller. A wacky homophobic landlord has the right to not rent me his apartment if he (likely) suspects I'm gay, and I have the right to deny him my business if I catch a whiff of homophobia from him. I'm better served to not be legally protected from his homophobia and have to suffer the subtle hostilities that would surely come later. Likewise, it would have been better if my former employer had posted a "no women allowed" sign in front of the club. I've witnessed the hostility the few women who made it into the club faced from some of the bar staff (and the male patrons). The reaction of those turned away by the "no high heels" rule tended to be some form of "fuck you." And rightly so. Had the women who managed to gain entry to the club known the spirit of the rule, I suspect their reaction would have been similar.

Finally, I never said the government is "inherently evil," nor did I mean to imply it. Within its proper scope, government prevents a civilized society from devolving into barbarism and chaos. Government isn't evil. It isn't even a "necessary evil." The proper function of government is unquestionably good. I don't think this contradicts my position that the government should have no authority to protect us from the private discrimination of troglodytes. Unfortunately, troglodytes have rights too.