Rebirth of Reason


In Defense of Discrimination
by William Scott Dwyer

Discrimination is bad! We hear it from the pulpit, from the media, from our moralists and especially from our “civil rights” leaders. Discrimination is bad, immoral, indecent and downright un-American! Individualists even argue that discrimination is collectivist -- that it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of group membership, such as by offering price discounts to seniors or free drinks to women on “Ladies Night.” We even have laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, age or disability

But is discrimination the evil that everyone says it is? My answer is: No. It depends on the kind of discrimination one is talking about. In fact, discrimination can be a good thing and even something worth promoting. If that shocks you, then you need to pay close attention, for I will be defending the very evil that is everyone’s favorite whipping boy!

Let me begin by noting that racism is due not to the presence of discrimination but to its absence. We condemn the racist because he fails to discriminate among different members of the same race. Instead, he lumps them all together indiscriminately on the basis of group membership, when they’re really unique individuals with different characters and abilities. We call his action “discrimination” because he discriminates between members of his own race and those of another by judging the former as individuals but not the latter. But observe that what we really object to in the racist is his lack of discrimination. What we find offensive is that he is not sufficiently discriminating – that he does not discriminate enough among individual members of the same race. The cure for racist stereotyping is more discrimination, not less.

Some people condemn price discrimination for the same reason as racist discrimination. Take senior discounts in which sellers charge people over sixty-five less money for the same good or service. Sellers do this, because seniors tend to have less money than non-seniors and offering them a discount is a way of getting them to buy the product. The seller would prefer to be even more discriminating and to charge every individual a different price based on the buyer's willingness to pay it. But the seller has no cost-effective way of determining each person’s demand price. So the most efficient method is for him to identify differences among groups of people and to discriminate on that basis. While identifying group differences is not as discriminating as the seller would like, it’s the best he can do.

Observe that charging everyone the same price is itself a process of lumping people together indiscriminately and treating them all as undifferentiated members of the same group – the buying public. But this is never denounced as stereotyping buyers or prejudging their demand prices. It is never condemned as collectivist thinking, even though for people who condemn price discrimination as collectivist, it should be.

Furthermore, much of what passes for racism -- for judging people indiscriminately on the basis of race -- is really an example of the opposite -- of discriminating among members of the same race.

Consider the oft-cited example of cabbies passing up blacks who are waiting for a cab. Do the cabbies pass up elderly black women? No, they pass up young black men. They discriminate, not on the basis of race, but among members of the same race according to age and gender. Is this kind of discrimination rational? Considering that eighty-five percent of the six felonies committed every day against cab drivers in New York City are by black men between the ages of sixteen and forty, it is eminently rational. Yet cab drivers who refuse to pick up young, black men as passengers are routinely condemned as racist.

In reality, in order for the drivers’ behavior to be classified as racist, they would have to exhibit a failure to discriminate among members of the same race, by lumping all blacks together and treating them as undifferentiated members of the same group, which they are obviously not doing. They are discriminating among blacks by passing up only certain individuals within that group.

And they are doing so out of concern for their very lives.

As one cabbie put it, "Cab drivers have only one effective way of protecting themselves against the murderous thieves who prey on us. And that is to exercise experienced discretion in whom we pick up [i.e., to discriminate against young black men]. . . . Half of New York's cab drivers are themselves black, and act no differently from white drivers."

A study by Howard University in Washington, D.C. concluded that when similarly dressed blacks and whites tried to hail a cab, blacks were turned down seven times more frequently than whites. But in the lawsuits that arose from this study, none of the cab drivers accused of discrimination was white. All were African immigrants, native-born blacks or Middle Easterners. In Washington D.C., a reporter interviewed a dozen black cabbies, and found that nearly all of them refused to pick up young, black men at night. In exercising their right of refusal, these drivers risk a $500 fine for "discrimination" and eventually a suspended license, but said one, "I'd rather be fined than have my wife a widow".

In San Francisco, both taxi drivers and pizza deliverers refuse to go to certain black neighborhoods out of fear for their very lives. Are they guilty of racism? Is it simply the fact that the residents of these neighborhoods are black that prevents them from going there, or is it the fact that the neighborhoods are high crime areas that happen to be populated by black residents? If the neighborhoods were safe and upscale as some black communities are (e.g., a wealthy all-black suburb of Atlanta), then taxi drivers and pizza deliverers would have no fear of going there. If they would, then they'd be judging all blacks indiscriminately on the basis of race and would indeed be guilty of racism. What they are doing in San Francisco is discriminating among different members of the black population – which is the antithesis of racism.

It is for this reason that San Francisco supervisor Willie Kennedy, living in the predominantly black Bayview-Hunters Point area, was refused a delivery from Domino's Pizza. Kennedy's reaction, however, was not one of rational understanding but of moral indignation. "It's absolutely ridiculous for us to license people to do business in San Francisco (when) they do not serve the entire region", she said. "It makes me angry -- I pay my taxes in this city, and I don't get what everybody else gets." Observe that she was condemning Domino’s Pizza for not being sufficiently indiscriminate in their judgment -- for not viewing the entire city of San Francisco as one undifferentiated, homogeneous mass of people with no differences in character or crime rate. This is the same attitude that opponents of racism, like Willie Kennedy, would be quick to condemn if it were applied to an entire race of people.

Charles Augustine, black publisher of the Bay Area Gazette, was more realistic. Responding to Kennedy's objection, he said: "Well, let's get real. Why won't [Domino's] go there? Have you ever heard of a merchant not wanting to make a buck? The answer is "no." The reason they do not want the business is because thugs rob, beat up or intimidate service people. Now why won't blacks deal with the real problem -- that is, getting people in the neighborhood to realize that if we allow thugs to bother service people, we will not be able to get service. It drives me crazy when I have difficulty catching a cab or have to wait forever for a bus. Do we expect people to endanger themselves?"

Finally, and perhaps most important, the management of Domino's has an obligation to be concerned for its employees' safety. Wally Wilcox, the owner of Domino's Pizza franchise store, stated that he does not deliver to public housing projects in San Francisco, since one of his driver's was shot after taking a pizza to a home in a dangerous neighborhood. "We've (also) had guys go after us with sticks and knives", he said. "They do all kinds of things."

Nonetheless, at Willie Kennedy's urging, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a "pizza delivery law", which makes it illegal to refuse delivery of a pizza to dangerous neighborhoods in San Francisco. It is ironic that advocates of governmental intervention often point to the so-called benefits of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, which I'm sure every member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors would support, yet when minority interests are involved, these same supervisors see nothing wrong with voting for legislation that seriously endangers the health and safety of pizza deliverers, many of whom are poor students and immigrants struggling to get by.

Responding to this absurd legislation, one San Francisco resident had this to say: "Refusing to make deliveries to extremely dangerous parts of town reflects more common sense than unfair discrimination. Restaurants are in business to make money; having goods stolen and drivers injured is not a profitable method of operation for any business. How many of the supervisors would honestly want to deliver a pizza to the Sunnydale or Bernal Heights projects after dark?" What he should have said is that not making deliveries to extremely dangerous parts of town is indeed a form of discrimination, but one that is entirely legitimate.

The point is not that all discrimination is legitimate (obviously, such things as separate facilities for blacks and whites are not), but rather that there are many forms of discrimination which are justified, but which civil rights activists denounce as "discriminatory," thereby making no distinction between rational and irrational forms of discrimination. The kind of discrimination that cabbies and pizza deliverers engage in is eminently rational -- indeed, required for their health and safety. It should not be condemned as immoral, much less made illegal.

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