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July 30, 2015 0

Mezuzah Is Fair Housing Decision’s Overlooked Beneficiary

The U.S. Supreme Court’s June 25th favor­able fair hous­ing deci­sion was a big win for the civil rights of all Amer­i­cans, includ­ing Jew­ish con­do­minium own­ers and renters who are pro­hib­ited from plac­ing Mezuzahs on their outer door posts.

A mezuzah is a small, unob­tru­sive object – typ­i­cally less than six inches long and an inch wide – which for mil­len­nia has been placed on the outer door­posts of Jew­ish homes in ful­fill­ment of reli­gious oblig­a­tions.  It is not a dec­o­ra­tive choice for Jews, or a choice of any kind.  Rather, an obser­vant Jew­ish per­son can­not buy, rent or reside in a res­i­dence where place­ment of a mezuzah on the outer door­post is prohibited.

Mezuzah-RS Many con­do­mini­ums, devel­op­ments and rental com­mu­ni­ties are sub­ject to gen­er­ally applic­a­ble aes­thetic or other restric­tions which pro­hibit the dis­play of all reli­gious or sec­u­lar sym­bols on outer door­posts and doors, includ­ing the mezuzah.  In the vast major­ity of these sit­u­a­tions, home­owner asso­ci­a­tions or land­lords accom­mo­date Jew­ish res­i­dents by allow­ing them to post their mezuzahs with­out issue.

How­ever, in the minor­ity of cases where asso­ci­a­tions or land­lords refuse to allow the mezuzah, the Court’s deci­sion is a valu­able legal tool.  In Texas Dept. of Hous­ing v. The Inclu­sive Com­mu­ni­ties Project, Inc., the Court rec­og­nized “dis­parate impact” the­ory under the fed­eral Fair Hous­ing Act.  As a result, gen­er­ally applic­a­ble hous­ing rules or prac­tices that have the effect of unin­ten­tion­ally dis­crim­i­nat­ing on the basis of race, color, reli­gion, sex, famil­ial sta­tus or national ori­gin, includ­ing restric­tions bar­ring dis­play of the mezuzah, vio­late the Act.

In light of the Court’s rul­ing, ADL has issued a new pub­li­ca­tion enti­tled, “Reli­gious Accom­mo­da­tion for the Mezuzah: Your Rights Under Fair Hous­ing Laws,” which in addi­tion to dis­cussing accom­mo­da­tions under fed­eral law cov­ers the four state laws (Con­necti­cut, Florida, Illi­nois and Texas) that specif­i­cally pro­hibit rules bar­ring dis­plays of the mezuzah and other reli­gious sym­bols in outer door areas.

Pro­vid­ing reli­gious accom­mo­da­tions for the mezuzah is a prin­ci­pled and wor­thy prac­tice.   Now that the Court has ruled in favor of dis­parate impact under the Fair Hous­ing Act, home­owner asso­ci­a­tions and land­lords should be on notice that pro­vid­ing such accom­mo­da­tions is not only the right thing to do, but legally required in most instances.

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July 15, 2015 1

The Voting Rights Advancement Act: Necessary to Ensure Voting Rights for All

Almost fifty years ago, on August 6, 1965, Pres­i­dent Lyn­don B. John­son signed the his­toric Vot­ing Rights Act (VRA), one of the most impor­tant and effec­tive pieces of civil rights leg­is­la­tion ever passed.   In the almost half cen­tury since its pas­sage, the VRA has secured and safe­guarded the right to vote for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. Its suc­cess in elim­i­nat­ing dis­crim­i­na­tory bar­ri­ers to full civic par­tic­i­pa­tion and in advanc­ing equal polit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion at all lev­els of gov­ern­ment is unde­ni­able. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has sup­ported pas­sage of the VRA and every reau­tho­riza­tion since 1965, filed ami­cus briefs urg­ing the Supreme Court to uphold the law, pro­moted aware­ness about the impor­tance of the VRA, and encour­aged the Depart­ment of Jus­tice to use the VRA to pro­tect vot­ing rights for all.

VRA interns for web

The last time Con­gress extended the VRA, it did so after an exhaus­tive exam­i­na­tion of vot­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion and the impact of the VRA – days of hear­ings and thou­sands of pages of doc­u­men­ta­tion. The leg­is­la­tion passed over­whelm­ing: 390 to 33 in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and 98–0 in the Senate.

Notwith­stand­ing this over­whelm­ing sup­port and exhaustively-documented leg­isla­tive his­tory – and the unde­ni­ably extra­or­di­nary impact of the VRA–a bit­terly divided 5–4 major­ity of the U.S. Supreme Court struck down §4(b) of the VRA (the for­mula to deter­mine which states and polit­i­cal sub­di­vi­sions would have to pre­clear all vot­ing changes) in Shelby County v. Holder , essen­tially gut­ting the heart of the legislation.

Almost imme­di­ately after the deci­sion, states that had been sub­ject to pre­clear­ance over­sight for vot­ing changes began enact­ing laws that threaten to dis­pro­por­tion­ately dis­en­fran­chise minor­ity, young, poor, and elderly vot­ers. Texas, for exam­ple, enacted a strict plan that fed­eral courts had pre­vi­ously rejected, find­ing that there was “more evi­dence of dis­crim­i­na­tory intent than we have space, or need, to address here….Simply put, many His­pan­ics and African Amer­i­cans who voted in the last elec­tions will, because of the bur­dens imposed by SB 14 , likely be unable to vote.”

Texas was not alone in quickly mov­ing to enact unwar­ranted voter ID laws and restric­tions on voter reg­is­tra­tion and early vot­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. In fact, the efforts over the last few years to restrict vot­ing rights around the coun­try are unprece­dented in mod­ern Amer­ica. The United States has not seen such a major leg­isla­tive push to limit vot­ing rights since right after Reconstruction

In Shelby County, the Court invited Con­gress to craft a new for­mula based on its guid­ance. This leg­is­la­tion, the Vot­ing Rights Advance­ment Act, has now been intro­duced in both the House and the Sen­ate. The mea­sure would update the cov­er­age for­mula, put in place addi­tional safe­guards for vot­ing, and help ensure that all Amer­i­cans can have their say in our democracy.

As we cel­e­brate the anniver­sary of the VRA, it’s time to leg­is­late, not just commemorate.

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March 16, 2015 2

To Confront Racism, We Must Also Look In the Mirror

teenagers debateLast week, dis­turb­ing video emerged of fra­ter­nity broth­ers from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) chap­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Okla­homa laugh­ing while singing a racist chant: “There will never be a ni**** SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me. There will never be a ni**** SAE.”

The news comes on the heels of the recent find­ings from a Depart­ment of Jus­tice inves­ti­ga­tion in Fer­gu­son, MO which, among other things, revealed a deeply trou­bling series of racist emails by Fer­gu­son offi­cials. One email, for exam­ple, in Novem­ber 2008 pre­dicted that Pres­i­dent Obama would not be pres­i­dent much longer because “what black man holds a steady job for four years.”

With few excep­tions, peo­ple have denounced these inci­dents as racist. Imme­di­ately after the news broke, the pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­sity of Okla­homa con­demned the stu­dents’ behav­ior and sev­ered all ties between the uni­ver­sity and the local SAE chap­ter.  At the same time, the national SAE head­quar­ters shut down the local chap­ter. Ferguson’s munic­i­pal court clerk was fired and the chief of police and two police offi­cers resigned after the DOJ report was released.

It is cer­tainly appro­pri­ate to con­demn this racism and teach peo­ple to chal­lenge biased lan­guage, but it is not enough.  Today, thank­fully, such overt racism is much less com­mon than in the past.  Still, there is an under­cur­rent of much sub­tler, more deeply buried bias that still flows through Amer­ica.  While fewer and fewer Amer­i­cans would use overt offen­sive, deroga­tory terms, many of us—consciously or not—have implicit biases (uncon­scious atti­tudes, stereo­types or unin­ten­tional actions that we direct at a mem­ber of a group sim­ply because of that person’s mem­ber­ship in that group).

The implicit biases embed­ded in, for exam­ple, the racial dis­par­i­ties in the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem or the seg­re­gated nature of the col­lege fra­ter­nity sys­tem, can be as or more harm­ful than this hate­ful and deroga­tory language.

From a very early age we learn to dif­fer­en­ti­ate between things that are the same and things that are dif­fer­ent: one of these things is not like the other one.  Sci­ence shows that we make the same snap judg­ments about other peo­ple, using what we know and what we assume to cat­e­go­rize things. While that gives us impor­tant tools in mak­ing sense of the world, when paired with soci­etal biases and stereo­types it can become harm­ful. As a result of sub­tle mes­sages through­out soci­ety, most people—whether or not they intend it, and often when they expressly do not—have some implicit biases.

Stud­ies have found, for exam­ple, that doc­tors are more likely to pre­scribe pain med­ica­tion for white patients with a bro­ken leg than African Amer­i­can or Latino patients. Law firm part­ners, when asked to eval­u­ate a memo writ­ten by a hypo­thet­i­cal asso­ciate, scored the memo lower and found more mis­takes when they were told it had been writ­ten by an African Amer­i­can.  Another study found that, in order to get a call for an inter­view, appli­cants with typ­i­cally black names (such as Jamal or Lak­isha) had to send out 50 per­cent more resumes.

It is easy to dis­miss the racism at SAE and in Fer­gu­son as an aber­ra­tion and some­thing we would never engage in our­selves. It is much harder to deny that we have any implicit bias, espe­cially if you take the Implicit Asso­ci­a­tion Test. Because implicit bias begins at a very early age and devel­ops over the course of a life­time, there are ways we can par­ent, teach and inter­act with young peo­ple to coun­ter­act these direct and indi­rect messages:

  • Make your home, class­room and school envi­ron­ment as diverse as pos­si­ble so that from an early age, you work to coun­ter­act neg­a­tive biases. This means cre­at­ing an inclu­sive and cul­tur­ally sen­si­tive class­room with books, class­room dis­plays, bul­letin boards, hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions, videos, sto­ries, text­books, etc. and make sure dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives are reflected in your class­room curriculum.
  • Affirm and reflect the dif­fer­ent aspects of iden­tity rep­re­sented in your class­room and help young peo­ple decon­struct assump­tions, stereo­types and labels they have about dif­fer­ent groups of people.
  • Teach stu­dents what overt and implicit bias are and seek their par­tic­i­pa­tion in pro-actively doing some­thing about it.

 


 

 

Para Enfrentar el Racismo, Tam­bién Debe­mos Mirarnos en el Espejo

 

Hace poco tiempo apare­ció un per­tur­bador vídeo de los miem­bros de la frater­nidad del capí­tulo Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) de la Uni­ver­si­dad de Okla­homa, en el que ríen mien­tras can­tan un cán­tico racista: “Nunca habrá un ne***** en SAE. Puedes col­garlo de un árbol, pero él nunca podrá aso­cia­rse con­migo. Nunca habrá un SAE ne*****”.

La noti­cia le pisa los talones a los recientes resul­ta­dos de una inves­ti­gación en Fer­gu­son, MO real­izada por el Depar­ta­mento de Jus­ti­cia que, entre otras cosas, rev­eló una muy pre­ocu­pante serie de correos elec­tróni­cos racis­tas emi­ti­dos por fun­cionar­ios de Fer­gu­son. Por ejem­plo, un correo  predijo en noviem­bre de 2008 que el Pres­i­dente Obama no sería pres­i­dente por mucho más tiempo porque “qué hom­bre negro es capaz de tener un tra­bajo con­stante durante cua­tro años”.

 

Con pocas excep­ciones, la gente ha denun­ci­ado estos inci­dentes como racis­tas. Inmedi­ata­mente después de que aparecieran las noti­cias, el pres­i­dente de la Uni­ver­si­dad de Okla­homa con­denó el com­por­tamiento de los estu­di­antes y cortó todos los vín­cu­los entre la uni­ver­si­dad y el capí­tulo local del SAE.  Al mismo tiempo, la ofic­ina nacional del SAE cerró el capí­tulo local. El sec­re­tario del juz­gado munic­i­pal de Fer­gu­son fue des­pe­dido y el jefe del policía y dos ofi­ciales de policía renun­cia­ron cuando el informe de Depar­ta­mento de Jus­ti­cia fue dado a conocer.

Cier­ta­mente es apropi­ado con­denar este racismo y enseñar a la gente a enfrentar el lenguaje pre­jui­ci­ado, pero eso no es sufi­ciente.  Hoy día, afor­tu­nada­mente, el racismo tan abierto es mucho menos común que en el pasado.  No obstante, en Esta­dos Unidos todavía hay una cor­ri­ente sub­ter­ránea de pre­juicio mucho más sutil, enter­rado más pro­fun­da­mente.  Aunque cada vez menos esta­dounidenses uti­lizarían tér­mi­nos ofen­sivos o despec­tivos abier­ta­mente, muchos de nosotros −con­sciente o incon­scien­te­mente− ten­emos pre­juicios implíc­i­tos (acti­tudes incon­scientes, estereoti­pos o acciones no inten­cionales que dirigi­mos con­tra un miem­bro de un grupo sim­ple­mente por ser miem­bro de ese grupo).

 

Los pre­juicios implíc­i­tos arraiga­dos en, por ejem­plo, las dis­pari­dades raciales en el sis­tema de jus­ti­cia crim­i­nal o la nat­u­raleza seg­re­gada del sis­tema de frater­nidades uni­ver­si­tarias, pueden ser tanto o más dañi­nos que este lenguaje despec­tivo y de odio.

Desde muy tem­prana edad apren­demos a dis­tin­guir entre las cosas que son iguales y las cosas que son difer­entes: una de estas cosas no es como la otra.  La cien­cia demues­tra que hace­mos los mis­mos juicios rápi­dos sobre la gente, usando lo que sabe­mos y lo que asum­i­mos para clasi­ficar cosas. Aunque eso nos da impor­tantes her­ramien­tas para enten­der el mundo, cuando se une con pre­juicios y estereoti­pos sociales puede lle­gar a ser per­ju­di­cial. Como resul­tado de men­sajes sutiles en la sociedad, la may­oría de la gente −lo quiera o no, y a menudo cuando expre­sa­mente no lo quiere− tiene algunos pre­juicios implícitos.

Por ejem­plo, los estu­dios han encon­trado que los médi­cos tienen más ten­den­cia a pre­scribir medica­men­tos para el dolor a los pacientes blan­cos con una pierna rota que a los pacientes afro-americanos o lati­nos. Cuando se le pidió a los socios de una firma de abo­ga­dos eval­uar un memo escrito por un aso­ci­ado hipotético, lo cal­i­fi­caron menos bien y encon­traron más errores cuando les dijeron que había sido escrito por un afro-americano.  Otro estu­dio encon­tró que para con­seguir una cita para una entre­vista, los aspi­rantes con nom­bres típi­ca­mente negros (tales como Jamal o Lak­isha) tuvieron que enviar 50% más currículos

Es fácil descar­tar el racismo en el SAE y en Fer­gu­son como una aber­ración y algo en lo que nunca par­tic­i­paríamos nosotros mis­mos. Es mucho más difí­cil negar que ten­emos algún pre­juicio implíc­ito, espe­cial­mente si tomamos la Prueba de Aso­ciación Implícita. Debido a que el pre­juicio implíc­ito comienza en una edad muy tem­prana y se desar­rolla a lo largo de la vida, hay man­eras en que podemos criar, enseñar e inter­ac­tuar con los jóvenes para con­trar­restar estos men­sajes direc­tos e indirectos:

  • Haga el ambi­ente de su hogar, salón de clase y escuela tan diverso como sea posi­ble, de modo que desde una edad tem­prana usted con­tribuya a con­trar­restar los pre­juicios neg­a­tivos. Esto sig­nifica crear un aula inclu­siva y cul­tural­mente sen­si­ble con libros, exhibi­ciones, cartel­eras, cel­e­bra­ciones de fes­tivi­dades, videos, cuen­tos, tex­tos, etc. y ase­gu­rarse de que esas diver­sas per­spec­ti­vas se refle­jen en el cur­rículo de sus cursos.
  • Refuerce y refleje los diver­sos aspec­tos de iden­ti­dad rep­re­sen­ta­dos en su aula y ayude a los jóvenes a decon­struir los estereoti­pos, suposi­ciones y eti­que­tas que tienen sobre diver­sos gru­pos de gente.
  • Enseñe a los estu­di­antes qué son los pre­juicios abier­tos e implíc­i­tos y busque su par­tic­i­pación para hacer algo al respecto proac­ti­va­mente.

 

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