UNEQUAL TERMS – Marilyn Armstrong

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 a woman, there was plenty of prejudice and bigotry to give everyone a healthy dose.


While it was no longer fashionable to be (at least in my home state of New York) an obvious bigot, it didn’t eliminate bigotry. Many of us felt the effects. It was subtle. It always left a question mark hanging in the air. 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 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?

“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 I was asked. No one was going to do that to me again.”

Things have supposed gotten better. After all, we have the civil rights amendment and laws which, in theory, prevent people from being fired (or not hired) because of race, age, having children, being female, being any religion other than Christian and in some cases, being the right kind of Christian. Prospective employers can’t directly inquires 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 fair. Prejudice live in the bones and no law will change it.

The one guy I hug a lot

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 issues in the workplace or our culture. That’s inequality at its worst — not counting being black and getting shot for no known reason except your skin color. That’s definitely 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. The least we can do for them is make it illegal to shove it in their faces and down their throats.

I suppose we can thank Orangehead for taking the subtlety out of racism and putting is back where it belongs. Nothing subtle about it these days. You don’t have to guess anymore.



Categories: Anecdote, Legal Matters, Personal, Work

Tags: , , , ,

15 replies

  1. Here is a parallel for ya, and one I hadn’t thought of until my career as a musician started to get moving. Back in the 60s, I had the pleasure of working with some of the top latin bands in the NY City area as an “A” list bass player. These guys were from all over the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Texas etc. and they had a cultural view all their own. One day I was discussing working out of state, places like Florida. One of the guys who, obviously, had more experience in these matters spoke up saying “When you cross the George Washington Bridge you in da south, man.” New Jersey.., South.., Really? Needless to say that gig was cancelled.

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  2. I’m very very thankful that I entered the workforce “almost” after it was illegal to ask someone those sorts of personal questions. By the time I left the workforce (2010) you couldn’t ask ANY of them without trouble. In fact, my last employer was supposed to be prohibited from saying anything about me at all, save for the fact that I had worked for them and how long that had been. Didn’t stop my psycho ‘supervisor’ from over sharing that, in her OPINION, I was crazy as a loon. Whatever. My problem with politically correct behavior is that, while it does have it’s benefits (as you mentioned), we’ve gone overboard with it. Too far, in my opinion. I agree heartily that racial, religious, sexual, gender and other ‘hate’ crime labels and profiling are well rid of (we’re not of course, but we can pretend we are), prohibiting teachers from hugging a distraught child at school or comforting them, or disciplining them has brought a lot of society’s ills about. In my opinion. When everything has to be soft pedaled for fear of offending someone, that’s just a bit too politically correct for me. But I’m from Utah. I don’t think we’ve ever reached the same level of PC as the rest of the country. Not yet.

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    • We need to somehow figure out the difference between offensive and casual. We haven’t worked it out yet and I agree, in a lot of places, it’s kind of absurd. But, if it keeps the toilet mouths silent, that’s got to be a good thing.

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  3. Oh yes the orange baboon has let the genie of hatred, bias, racism and bigotry out of the bottle. And it isn’t going back any time soon.

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  4. These bigots would probably be terrible to work for anyway, Marilyn. They showed their colours….

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  5. Only point I will disagree with is that Orangehead only took the last vestiges of subtlety out of racism, he was not responsible for all of it. After Obama was elected, people were very careful to hide their racism… for about two months. By 2012, I had to unfriend a lot of Facebook “friends” from my hometown because they made it extremely clear that the reason they didn’t like President Obama was because of the color of his skin, not his politics. And the comments people I didn’t know left on their posts – I didn’t know such hatred existed except under the anonymity of a white hood. It was out in the open, not subtle, not hidden.

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    • Oh, I absolutely agree. Trump just opened the windows and doors and said “All you racists, c’mon in! Plenty of room for all of you.” But the racism has always been there since we became a nation. BEFORE we became a nation. Slaves were on the exploration ships and from 1619, they were imported to “help” farmers and anyone else who needed workers that didn’t get paid and couldn’t leave That’s how we went from a bankrupt nation with nothing to quite a powerhouse in the 1800s. We built it on the backs of slaves.

      Trump is the president we have been waiting for. He is what we have aimed for since the beginning. We’ve been binging on reruns of Boston Legal and it’s bizarre that ALL the same issues in the show are exactly the same ones we are battling now. ALL of them. You could take the monologues from the show, put them in the mouths of current pols, and no one would notice the difference. Even earlier movies and shows … same story, just that Boston Legal does it better.

      We wanted “everyman” to be president. Now, we don’t want everyman. We want anyone, as long as he’s white and preferably old. What will they do when all we boomers disappear? We went through Garry’s contact list yesterday and had to delete half of them because they are dead. We’re a shrinking population and we seem to have raised a lot of wimps in upcoming generations.

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