The word has become one of the cultural touchstones. Discrimination. Bad. Evil. Wrong. Everybody says so. Most don’t get it, and this is by no means a mistake of one side of the other, although the vilification of the word comes from the simplistic left and has since been embraced by the simplistic right as it serves their purpose at the moment.
We all discriminate. We have to. We should. We must. And it’s a wonderful thing, because that’s how we differentiate between the things we believe to be right and good from the things we don’t. We discriminate with the food we eat, the people we date and marry, the cars we drive and the jobs we seek and take. We pick the ones we prefer. We leave the others behind. We discriminate.
What we cannot do, because the law says we cannot, is discriminate on unlawful bases in certain circumstances. We can’t discriminate on the basis of race in hiring, for example, because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits it. But we still can refuse to hire someone who is not qualified for a job, regardless of race, because that would be discrimination on the basis of competence, and that discrimination is entirely lawful. Indeed, it’s kind of important, since you want your airline pilot to be able to land the plane.
Whether the government should have gotten into the business of telling private companies and individuals what choices they should make, even in limited situations, is no longer in doubt. The government does. The courts have held it can. The deal is done. Let it go.
But extrapolating from the limited intrusion of government into every aspect of individual and business behavior is having a mask moment. It’s not entirely new. There were the signs going back to the ’60s when signs first starting appearing on business doors that read, “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” Yes, kids with long hair of choice, not because barbers were considered non-essential, often went out without shoes because it was fun and cool.
Store owners, particularly restaurants, didn’t like it. Many considered it unsanitary. Maybe it was more about how other patrons viewed it. Whatever, they could let in those they chose and deny entry to anyone who arrives unshod. Why? Because they discriminated. And, wait for it, they were entirely within their rights to discriminate. If they decided to refuse to serve people with red hair, gingers if you will, they could do that too. Red-headed people were not protected from discrimination by law. Nor were Republicans, or Democrats.
But then as laws became untethered from their original rationales, they expanded into other areas of concern. A store that was open to the public couldn’t discriminate against unidexters because that would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibited public accommodations from denying access to people who were disabled. Disabled originally was thought to include physical handicaps, which morphed into challenges and then into challenges that made accommodating them harder, if not impossible, to accomplish. Mental illness is a disability, right, so it would be no less unlawful to discriminate against someone who suffered from mental illness than someone who was blind.
Stupid, however, was never held to be a disability.
"I’m not doing it, because I woke up in a free country.” A defiant #Costco customer filmed his encounter with an employee who asked him to wear a mask or leave the store. https://t.co/JRRw52wKgt How do you feel about store policies requiring face masks? pic.twitter.com/qPCem8BQC9
— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) May 21, 2020
It would be one discussion if this were a complaint about government overreach. It would be a brief discussion, as the government has the authority to craft rules for public health in an emergency, but still a different discussion. But Costco, or Johns Bargain Store for that matter, isn’t the government. It’s just a store. And it can discriminate all its wants, provided it doesn’t violate the plethora of laws prohibiting discrimination by private parties.
Whether the country is as free as you want it to be is a philosophical question to be discussed over whatever beverage you prefer (more discrimination, I might add). Reasonable people may differ. But Costco doesn’t owe you freedom. Costco can discriminate. It can establish a policy that people without masks aren’t allowed inside. It can establish a policy that people who wear their baseball caps backwards aren’t allowed inside either, because stupid isn’t a disability. And whining about how Costco is taking away your freedom is no less wrong, and idiotic, than whining that you didn’t get that job as a brain surgeon because of your gender when your education ended with a baccalaureate in gender studies.
It’s not all bad news, however. You, too, can discriminate. You can choose not to go to Costco if you find its policies harsh, wrong or stupid. No one will come to your home, put a gun to your head and demand that you shop at Costco. You are free to take your business wherever you deem best. You can discriminate right back at them. Hah!
Discrimination has been given a bad name over the past few decades. Like so many other words in the hands of children and fools, it’s been misunderstood, misapplied, even (dare I say it?) weaponized. There are types of discrimination that are bad, and therefore prohibited by law, under certain circumstances. The push over time has been to expand the rhetoric, to “remember the rubric and forget the rationale.” What it’s done is turn “discrimination” into a dirty word, an epithet to be hurled in the face of your enemies as if it’s an evil in itself. I’ve discriminated all my life and have no plans to stop now. Just not on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, and religion.
Another word that’s suffered is “freedom.” You’re free not to wear a mask, if that’s your choice. Costco is free not to let you in without one. Freedom is a two-way street. And I’m free to remind you that if you want to go into Costco, you need to play by their rules. Or you’re free to go elsewhere. Freedom is wonderful, just like discrimination.