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When I heard Rand Paul's historically awful performance on the Rachel Maddow Show, I was moved toward writing this diary... but the final push came from an excellent Salon article comparing his execrable remarks with the book Black Like Me.

I write this not merely to agree with the Salon article, or to protest Dr. Rand's historically obtuse ideas. I write this to partially recount the discrimination and racism I have witnessed over the last 50 years...

On rereading "Black Like Me" with Rand Paul's controversial comments in mind, I was struck by how very few truly public places there were in the apartheid South. Employers, subdivisions, stores, restaurants, gas stations, hotels -- Rand Paul would have allowed all of these to be segregated to this day because they are privately owned. According to this disingenuous theory, in the segregated South everyone, black or white, should have had a right to work, eat and sleep at the small-town post office or police station, because they were public agencies -- but no right to work, eat or sleep anywhere else.

I never lived in the South, and I've never been the victim of discrimination, but I've seen way too much of it. Here is a partial list, in no particular order:

--When I was a cabdriver, many African-American and Latino customers would pay for their rides in advance. I would return the money, and tell them they could pay when we arrived. Some of these customers expressed their surprise, telling me "white cabbies always want us to pay up front." Many had toddlers and infants with them. I couldn't imagine the whole family running down the street to avoid paying a $7 fare, but other white cabdrivers evidently could.
I picked up a black electronics engineer at a restaurant one night. He had had a few drinks, and called a cab to avoid driving under the influence. When I told him the price of the ride to his hotel, he looked at me ruefully and said, "I suppose you want your money up front, right?"
I replied, "Why... because you're an engineer?"

--Back in 2001, our landlord at an apartment in NJ kept a separate phone line for all rental advertsements, and let all calls go to his answering machine. I was at his home one day, and a call came in from a woman who merely sounded African-American. As soon as she hung up, he pressed a button to delete her message. He explained his action to me as "experience, not prejudice."
Our local newspaper in Atlantic City tested this "experience" many years ago. They sent black and white reporters, dressed in the same type of clothing, to several local real estate offices to ask about rentals. Almost every single office told the black reporters, "We don't handle rentals." The same offices gave the white reporters contact information for various landlords.

--One shooting range we've attended bans "extremes in clothing or appearance." There are plenty of mulleted rednecks in there, but damn few African-Americans: apparently, a Tupac shirt is extreme. I brought a black friend, who is a judge, there one day to shoot with me. Until they realized we were together, they treated him like shit. (Worse yet, he didn't notice it... sadly, he seemed used to it).
This is backed up by a classic news-magazine (20/20?) hidden camera exposé on racism in business, where identically dressed black and white customers visit various companies. The white customers are welcomed and helped. The black customers are either ignored or watched with great suspicion.
I worked in auto parts stores for twenty years, and I can attest to this attitude among many employers and employees. I did not share it... and my sales were consistently higher as a result, since I treated every potential customer as a human being. The sad part was how often the customers were clearly surprised at being addressed politely.

--A close friend, like me, has a concealed carry permit... but he never carries his loaded gun, and he doesn't even want to transport an unloaded firearm to the shooting range in his trunk. He explains, "I get pulled over three or four times a year, and 'black man with a gun' would be a lousy epitath." (He drives well, and obeys the traffic laws. By contrast, I drive like the ex-cabbie I am, and I haven't been stopped in seven years).
My friend the judge also carries. He has had many similar experiences, but his court ID -- which he keeps with his driver's license and carry permit -- short-circuits every traffic stop.

I can think of many more examples (and I invite others in the comments). I believe that discrimination by private and public entities must be banned in law, since it is so difficult to eradicate in practice... mere economic factors will never end institutionalized racism.

Originally posted to Tom Seaview on Tue May 25, 2010 at 07:16 AM PDT.


Racism by private businesses...

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