Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Senate Bill 1062 and Discrimination

As a parent of two small children, I hope that I am able to help my children recognize discrimination when they see it and to fight against it when they are able to. But when does discrimination call for a legal fight and when does it call for a "fight with my wallet" where I avoid companies that don't behave as I would?

As a White educated woman married to a White educated male who has two male children, people may be wondering what discrimination I (or my children) would see. And they would be right - I have spent the past 20 years or more of my life learning about the privileges that I was afforded based upon what I was born as and to whom I was born. I know that I lived in an area that had good schools because my parents were able to afford it. I know that I was able to go to college and attend full time because of my family (and my expectation of being able to repay my loans once I graduated). I know that I expected to be able to find a job without having to think about how my self, being me, would influence my ability to get a job, find housing, or maintain my safety. These things, and many more, are facts of "life" that others are concerned about on a daily basis.

Other women reading this may counter that they do have to worry about sexism in the workplace, in housing, or in maintaining safety, and I completely agree - women are discriminated against in all these areas. But for me, personally, other than hearing that some people were concerned about my application for a job because I was pregnant, I haven't experienced much blatant sexism personally. But I know it exists and others have experienced it.

When I graduated with my Master's in psychology, I went to work in areas that were typically underserved by psychological services on purpose, not as a default. I wanted to help struggling families, and the children of these families especially. I wanted to learn about their experiences and do what I could to help them reach their goals, even if "what I could do" was only to listen or to help the family find services that they could use. This put me in the position to be an outgroup member, to be an outsider in a community. For brief moments I experienced what many of my clients and their families experienced daily outside of their communities. I was "the White girl," "the counselor," "the guera" and I was reminded constantly that I didn't understand, that I couldn't understand, and I would reply that these families, these women, these children were very right.

As a professor and a researcher, most of my research focuses on identity and identity development. I remind my students that many of our research interests stem from personal experiences (or a lack thereof) and an attempt to understand our experiences, and I would be no different. I study identity and the self because I want to understand what others' experiences with developing their identity are and how they differed from my own journey towards identity and self understanding. I think one of the reasons this interests me is because, well, my own identity development is rather...I don't want to say uninteresting but it's not spectacular, it's bland. And I'm not saying that as a bad thing. I have very little family history knowledge. My family has very little family history knowledge. We don't have great stories of past ancestors. We don't have much of a past period. And I think that's what brought me to my interest in studying other cultures and the individual's experiences within that culture as they went through their own identity development journey.

This brings me to the original reason I sat down to write today: Arizona's Senate Bill 1062. The bill allows "people" (defined as individuals, business owners, and entities of any kind) to refuse to serve or work with others based upon religious beliefs. A contractor can refuse to build a home for a homosexual couple if the contractor's religious beliefs create conflict for him/her, and legally, if the couple claims they were discriminated against, the contractor can refer back to their religious upbringing as the reason for their choice. If a person feels that their religious beliefs are in conflict with serving another person, they would be legally able to refuse service under this bill.

In 1993 I spent some time in Paris with my classmates and I remember a particular lunch. A group of us were out together, poking around the city, and we decided to stop and get food. We found a place that looked like an American grill, and since many of my classmates were food home sick, we went in. A waitress stood outside smoking a cigarette, talking to a friend. We went in, we sat down, and everyone tried to read the menus. I helped as best as I could but I couldn't read for everyone. About 20 minutes later the waitress came up and asked what we wanted. My classmates painstakingly killed the French language as they attempted to order a burger and fries. Each order took at least 5 minutes of negotiation. After two of my classmates had ordered, the waitress walked away. And never came back. 45 minutes later we left, confused as to what had happened. We didn't try to go back. We didn't call the restaurant and speak to the manager. Why would we? Did we really want to be served by that place anyway?

A client was looking for housing for herself and her 3-year-old son. She told me that she had put in applications at over 15 apartment complexes and that only a few had called her back. She shrugged and said if they didn't want her then she didn't want them.

If people are being discriminated against by a company for any reason, what can they do? They can claim discrimination and sue the company. They can find another company that will do what they want and work with them, thus supporting a company that does not discriminate (well, at least against them). If the outcome is to get the service, to get a house built, it makes sense to find another contractor who will work with you. While it hasn't been legally accepted to do so, discrimination of this type has been going on for many years. Patrons have been not served, asked to leave, or told they needed to change their behavior if they wanted to stay, all without religious affiliation reasons.

The bill will be sent on to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer's office for approval next. It saddens me to think that people thought this needed to be made a law. I understand that people want the freedom to live within their religion, but these same folks have been not watching certain TV shows or movies because they went against their faith, but they haven't been asking for that TV show or movie to be outlawed. They have simply turned off the show/movie or not paid money to watch it.

As a parent I have been teaching my children to be interested in others' experiences and to be open to the idea that everyone my have different experiences. While we may not agree with you or how you live, that doesn't mean that I need a law to say I don't have to hang out with you. But that knowledge requires that I accept that we're different and that your experience doesn't have anything to do with me, it doesn't hurt me, it doesn't change how I think about myself or my life or my relationship.

What is your view on Arizona's SB 1062? I'd love to hear about others' thoughts as we maintain respect for others' opinions.