In the media recently were two stories centering on racial discrimination incidents. While I know that racial discrimination still exists in this country, I hoped that we had come further than the disgusting conduct that has been reported. I decided to do some research and came across this story that appears to have been circulating on the Internet for years. A female passenger on an international flight is seated next to a black man. She asks to be re-seated, because her prejudices won’t permit her to sit next to him. After driving a particular flight attendant crazy about the situation, the flight attendant tells her that she will check to see whether there are alternate, empty, seats available. After a few minutes, the flight attendant returns and announces that there is one available seat in first class. As the bigot unfastens her seat belt to make the move, the flight attendant offers the first class seat to the black man, much to the consternation of the bigoted woman.
I don’t know whether the story is true, but certainly depicts the way a flight attendant, or any employee of any business, should handle a bigot. When bigotry, in any form, rears its ugly head, the bigot should not be appeased; he/she should not be accommodated or rewarded. Contrast this story and the flight attendant’s solution with the facts of the two incidents mentioned at the onset of this post.
The first case centers upon a male, Caucasian, airline passenger (what is it with airline passengers?) who, allegedly, slapped a crying 19 month old, African American, baby. The slap followed an exchange between the man and the baby’s adoptive, Caucasian, mother wherein the man allegedly told the mother to “shut that (N-word) baby up”.
In the second case, an African-American nurse has filed a lawsuit and is seeking punitive damages after a Michigan hospital allegedly agreed to a man's request that no black nurses be allowed to care for his newborn. The nurse, employed at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, MI, claims a note was posted on an assignment clipboard reading, "No African American nurse to take care of baby."
We have a myriad of laws in this country that punish the guilty in incidents like this. Sadly, however, the law cannot regulate human behavior; the law cannot undue what years of racial prejudice have done to the psyche of our citizens. It is slowly being diluted from one generation to the next, but anyone who denies it still exists is naïve and should carefully read the two cases above. I am reminded of powerful scenes in the Rogers and Hammerstein play, South Pacific. A young Caucasian soldier, stationed on an island in the South Pacific, falls in love with a Polynesian girl. At the same time, a Caucasian nurse falls in love with a Frenchman who has two bi-racial children from a previous marriage. The soldier and the nurse both struggle with their inherent prejudice in proclaiming that neither could marry the partner that they had fallen in love with. The soldier sings a powerful song about being “carefully taught to hate all the people your relatives hate”. Here are the unforgettable lyrics:
“You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!”
America has laws that seek to guarantee fundamental civil rights in a truly diverse country with a truly diverse populace. Yet, do we really have equal pay for equal work? Can a black man really seek the same advantages as an equally talented white man? At one time in our history (not too long ago), our laws prevented blacks from voting at all; today, bigoted politicians create barriers that, essentially, deny access to the ballot box. Yesterday, “separate but equal” was out legal standard. Some outstanding and brave jurists put an end to that over time, with a series of landmark court decisions. However, human behavior still results in segregated neighborhoods, workplaces and schools. We are a nation of immigrants, a melting pot society, yet we have difficulty embracing and celebrating our differences; instead, we fight over them. The current immigration battle between Congress and the President is, in my judgment a battle fought over prejudices. We cannot seem to move beyond our prejudices; we are better than that, aren’t we?
So, how do we build a color-blind society? We can start by expressing our outrage over situations like the airplane slapping or Flint, MI hospital incidents. We can condemn the behavior of both men and speak out against similar conduct. We can conduct ourselves and raise our children to be responsible citizens who won’t tolerate bigotry of any kind. Education must continue to be a top priority for Americans if we are to move forward. Until we change the way we perceive others, America will be limited on how far it can progress as a country. After all:
Laundry is the only thing that should be separated by color. ~ Author Unknown
Mark Bello has thirty-six years experience as a trial lawyer and fourteen years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by a plaintiff involved in pending, personal injury, litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Member of Public Justice and Public Citizen, Business Associate of the Florida, Mississippi, Connecticut, Texas, and Tennessee Associations for Justice, and Consumers Attorneys of California, member of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.