GUISES AND DISGUISES OF DISCRIMINATION.
Discrimination functions on three levels, (1) the cognitive, (2) the emotional, and (3) the behavioral, manifest in forms oftentimes hard to detect. In Hamlet, Shakespeare put it this way referring to his uncle Claudius who has usurped the crown of Denmark: “That one may smile and smile and be a villain still.” Currently there are politicians, for example, who assert with a smile that they are looking out for the common weal but in reality are constructing labyrinths of deception ensnaring not only their constituents but all Americans in webs of discriminatory legislation.
The most pernicious webs of discriminatory legislation appeared in the age of Jim Crow in the United States when discrimination was overt and public against African Americans. Equally overt and public was discrimination against the Irish and Mexicans in the United States. Essentially, disguised discrimination changes the appearance or guise of something so as to conceal identity or mislead by means of deception or deceptive garb. One definition of Guise is about “trying on new attitudes and mannerisms, such as speaking and acting in the guise of a native in a place where you are actually a tourist.” I’ve tried this many times in the various places I’ve visited. Disguise involves hiding your real identity, disappearing in a different role.
A classic case of something disguised as something else is the peroration of Mark Antony before Caesar’s bier. Mark Antony assures Brutus that he has come to bury Caesar not to praise him but his peroration is like barbed darts slung at Brutus for regicide. With faint praise Mark Antony peels away the disguise of Brutus as the savior of Rome by murdering Caesar.
Perhaps one of the most notorious and transparent disguises of garb in the evolution of discrimination in the United States are the sheets donned as robes by the Ku Klux Klan, disguises that concealed little but in the aggregate promoted chilling fear principally among African Americans. Today we see statutory efforts in a wide-range of states enacting swaths of requirements to the voting process tantamount to voter restrictions. Disguised restrictions are no more than disguised discrimination. Constitutional restrictions eroding the rights of women have popped up in numerous states under the guise of protecting women. One feminist remarked that the glass ceiling has been replaced with unbreakable plexiglass in the guise of protecting the fairer sex.
“Sincerely held religious beliefs” offered in opposition to public accommodations can be little more than thinly veiled discrimination. Despite the progress of public accommodations laws one notes in numerous public places signs that alert customers that the establishment reserves the right to refuse service to anyone. Until not too long ago racial discrimination was practiced under the guise of “intelligence tests.” The use of Graduate Records Exams, SAT tests, and AP scores may be discrimination in disguise. The soft-bigotry of low expectations can also be discrimination in disguise. Under the guise of benevolent progress the Koch Brothers have launched numerous organizations whose sole objectives have been the erosion of the very rights those organizations proclaim to protect. The disguises are so well constructed that most often they succeed in their objectives.
At the moment there are laws in the public arena encouraging citizens to “stand their ground” when confronted with bodily harm. These laws also encourage citizens to arm themselves against harm. The most disturbing cases anent “stand your ground” laws are the murders of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis—the former killed by George Zimmerman on the pretext of self-defense; the latter killed by Michael Dunn on the same grounds of self-defense. Rashad Robinson of the organization ColorOfChange argues that “these dangerous laws legalize vigilante homicide and shield killers from dealing with the consequences of their actions.” In this context, these “Stand your Ground” laws are disguises of discrimination under the color of law.
In many ways, the disguises of discrimination can be regarded as “doublespeak”—sort of like talking out of both sides of one’s mouth. These disguises are so insidious (inconspi-cuous) that they lull us into believing that what is disguised is really looking out for our well-being. Under the guise of free exercise of religion, Idaho and Kansas have crafted homophobic bills allowing any private employer or business to refuse service to gay people—not just gay couples, but any individual whom a business owner suspects to be gay. Under cover of “sacred discrimination, the law allows hotels, restaurants, theaters, et all to place signs that “NO GAYS ALLOWED” much the way in an earlier era signs of NO MEXICANS ALLOWED were freely posted in the windows of public businesses.
Under the guise of “free speech” celebrity commentators belch out hate speech against people of color and women. Under the guise of equal accommodation the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 that blacks could be discriminated against provided they were offered equal public accommodations. Plessy was 7/8th white and 1/8th black. Bullying and harassment are manifestations of disguised discrimination. Raising standards of performance in schools and he workplace can be disguises of discrimination as much as weight-based discrimination. Censorship and book banning are equally disguises of discrimination. Hostility and inci-vility can also be disguises of discrimination. As can thinly veiled bigotry be a disguise of discrimination.
All in all, discrimination disguises itself in a variety of masks and faces, all tied to power. According to Caleb Rosado, to retain privilege, “one group, threatened by the perceived loss of power, exercises social, economic and political muscle against the Other . . . by restructuring for social advantage.” While ignorance and fear are certainly factors in discrimination, it’s the age-old maxim: He with the power, rules and dominates.
All the more reason to be vigilant and on-guard against the covert semblances of discrimi-nation. It is not an over-reaction to perceive “moros con tranchetes” (figures armed with Spikes) at every turn. Being cautious does not make them disappear; rather, it makes us alert to the possibilities that there they may lurk. Better to be safe than sorry.
In Brave New World Aldous Huxley wrote: People are not always who they seem to be or tell each other who they are. This doesn’t mean we ought to be suspicious carte blanche about all people—just cautious.
Under the guise of equality and democracy, hypocrisy and paternalism cloak their totalitarian agendas and intentions. Segregation in the guise of religious freedom is discrimination. Many feminists argue that discrimination against women begins at birth. Differentiated pay for women is discrimination.
The most egregious guise of discrimination in the United States occurred during the period of “separate but equal” ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson when discrimination against African Americans was sanctioned under the guise of providing African Americans with separate but equal access to public facilities and accommodations. The Hobby Lobby birth-control case recently ruled on by the Supreme Court s considered by many to be a form of disguised discrimination sanctioned by law.
Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Philip De Ortego y Gasca. All rights reserved.