FAR FROM EQUAL

Unequal Terms

Did you know today is Blog Action Day? Join bloggers from around the world and write a post about what inequality means to you. Have you ever encountered it in your daily life?


While I was growing up, mostly in the late 1950s and early 1960s, I knew there was plenty of inequality to go around. Whether you were non-white or non-Christian … or female … there was plenty of prejudice and bigotry to give everyone a healthy dose.

Although it was no longer fashionable to be (at least in New York) a blatant bigot, it didn’t eliminate bigotry itself. Many of us felt the effects. It was subtle, always leaving a question mark. What had really happened? If you were a member of any group that suffered from social and workplace intolerance, you had to tweeze apart encounters to make sense of them.

There was what had been said aloud. Then, there were the innuendos and attitudes that left you trying to figure out if it was personal … or something else.

I remember talking with my mother about this following an unsuccessful job interview where I had gotten the distinct impression the real issue was not my education or experience, but my plumbing. Or maybe it was the hook in my nose. Or both. What did she think?

96-Mom-May1944“When I started working,” she said, “I was only 14 … so I guess that was 1924? I didn’t look particularly Jewish. Blond hair, green eyes. But in those days, they didn’t have to guess. They just asked. It was legal to ask about religion and race.

“They gave me a form to fill out. I filled it in. Name, age, address, school. Where I had worked before. Then they asked for my religion. I wrote Jewish, then handed back the form.”

“That was legal?” I asked. It seemed incredible to me that this had gone on, but of course I was naïve and young. I would grow more cynical as years went on. “And then what happened?”

“He looked over the form,” continued my mother. “Then he mumbled Jewish. He took the paper, tore it up, and threw it in the trash. Right in front of me. At that point, I decided I would write “Protestant” when ever I was asked. No one was ever going to do that to me again.”

Things have gotten better, at least on the surface. Prospective employers can’t ask about your race, religion, or suggest that being a parent would make you unsuitable for the job. But whether or not they ask, people get fired (or not hired) every day for having children. For being the wrong sex, wrong color, wrong faith … wrong being whatever the person doing the hiring deems it to be. You can make prejudice, race hatred, and gender bias less visible, but you can’t make people be genuinely unprejudiced or fair.

Inequality is every time a woman gets paid less than the guy next to her for doing the same — or more — work. When the white kids applications rise to the top of the pile and those of the non-white applicants somehow remain on the bottom. When anything but who you are, what you know, what you can do are the issue in the workplace or in our culture. That’s inequality or worse.

You can rail about “political correctness” and how it’s being overdone, but I disagree. It’s bad enough so many people have to suffer the indignities of bigotry in this world. The least we can do for them is make it illegal to shove it in their faces and down their throats.

Like that guy did to my mother so long ago.



Categories: Anecdote, Legal Matters, Personal, Work

Tags: , , , , , ,

32 replies

  1. Of course these days, although you can’t actually ask the question, you can always give the job to someone else and just say the “undesirable” was “under-qualified” or something. The law can only go so far, it’s people’s attitudes which need to change.

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  2. Great post, Marilyn. Family stories like this one need to be told and retold and shared. Things may be getting a bit better, but there is so far yet to trek on the road to eliminate bigotry. Thanks so much for sharing. You do look so much like your mother~lovely! ❤

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  3. I seen to be an exception, but I grew up in an area with many immigrants. The first in memory were the Huegenots that were persecuted by the French. I am proud to say that my great grandmother (who I never knew) was a Camroux, a direct descendent. I discovered most of her ancestors and where they came from, but they met no resistance in the East End of London and melted into the background. The next wave of immigrants were the jewish refugees. They came from all different countries, mainly settling in the area around Whitechapel. They were business people and most of the factories and shops were in Jewish ownership. It was my natural surroundings and no problem. Of course they kept to their rites, why not. My high school was about 50% jewish and the factory where my mother worked (as a Hoffmann presser) was owned by a jewish person. She loved the job. I never lived in surroundings to be ashamed of. Today, I do not think it would work. The newest wave are from Bangla Desh, predominantly muslim. They would prefer that everyone in the area would also be muslim. They are not ready to adapt and that gives problems in the population. I no longer live there, since almost 50 years. I visit, but it is no longer my area of London. It takes understanding and tolerance on both sides. I was surprised what happened to your mother, but I only know the situation in London.

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    • That was 1924. On the surface, at least, much has changed.

      I don’t believe things have changed as much as they appear. There’s a lot of surface stuff, but underneath, people are the same as always. My mom grew up on New York’s Lower East Side, much like where you grew up. It was a live-and-let-live place. You didn’t have to like your neighbors, but everyone was left in peace.

      The workplace — which is where most of us encounter prejudice in a meaningful way — is different. While it’s currently illegal to base hiring and promotions on race, age, sex, religion, or ethnicity, it’s there. Unspoken, but there. White people don’t see it … especially not young white male Christians. Others see it. Garry sees it it. I see it. My friends see it. If you don’t tell someone they are being fired (or not hired) because they are too old, Black, Hispanic, gay, or Jewish … well, who’s to know? It’ll just be our little secret.

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  4. There are things we can not change. Yet, it is a positive sign that we continue to be aware of the same.

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  5. I think we have been debating on this issue for last so many decades but situation has not really improved in many parts of the world. People face inequality almost everywhere, it has been more or less a lip service to practice equality so far. Situation is even worse in Asian countries due to lacklustre laws.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m pretty sure the exact same prejudices you describe are still right there; employers are just not allowed to say it any more so they find other excuses to paper over the cracks were the real reasons show through.

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  7. Yes it id still there , more so in some parts. Do check this ouy
    http://toweararainbow.wordpress.com/2014/10/16/feminism-or-sexism/

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  8. There are only a few short years between our ages, I can identify with the times and attitudes you mention, but, I’m not Jewish, I am, however, appalled at what the man did to your mother! Moreover, I am so GLAD that she lied the next time, although that’s a pity to have to deny ones heritage and faith.

    In my senior year in high school, I dated a Jewish guy, he proposed to me but I had to say “no” because my parents objected and … geez… I was always the ‘black sheep’ in my family – I never understood bigotry. Still don’t.

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    • I always remember her telling me that story. I never thought it would be relevant to me … yet, in many ways, it was. It’s shocking how much bigotry remains in the world, with all the changes that have occurred and all the laws that have passed. Shocking and sad.

      Liked by 2 people

      • One of the reasons I ran off to Canada in ’76 was to escape the prejudices which were so terribly present in South Chicago, where I lived. I raised my sons in a true melting-pot in Canada, there was such a diverse community of different ethnic backgrounds.

        When we moved back to the USA, an incident occurred in a restaurant where a black man thought my son intentionally shoved him. My son, heavy Canadian accent, apologized to the guy, bought him a beer and they engaged earnestly and congenially in a conversation about racism which my son did not understand. I am proud of my sons and of myself for not entertaining bigotry in our home.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I think PC — particularly in education — is hypocrisy. To me, PC is not the same as laws against discrimination which I believe in whole-heartedly. Your mom did the right thing. She “protested” (hence, a definite protestant).

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I wish I could argue with you and say it doesn’t happen any more, but I can’t 😦

    Liked by 2 people

    • It still happens. I felt it on our just concluded trip through northern New England in a couple of places. It was such a wonderful trip I didn’t want to make a big deal of the incidents. Frankly, I’m not surprised.

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      • My in-laws live in northern Maine (around Houlton, not the area you just visited). I’m sure a few of the people I’ve met up there don’t go out of their way to be friendly to people who are different. I’m glad it didn’t ruin your trip. I loved the pictures the two of you posted.

        Like

  11. There are so many kinds of prejudice. Fears.
    One I ran into when i was looking for work was ‘Single’. Married folks get the job. We can understand that, but I too learned what to put on an application – and what not.
    Race, sex, age, religion … I’ve encountered all these over the years. It always kind of shocks me .. but it’s there.
    Always will be be, it seems.

    Like

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