On Sunday, Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Mike Pence unwittingly provided a window into why so many conservatives don’t understand discrimination. Pence said two things that won’t get the attention they deserve, because tomorrow Trump may punch a nun, or spoon with Putin in Red Square, or impale an engendered species in the middle of Time Square – Harambe’s cousin, or Cecil the Lion’s – or some such offense against decency.
A pity. Because at the end of a long interview, Chris Wallace asked Pence two questions: first, if he believes a business owner can “refuse to serve a gay” at their business; and second, Wallace pressed Pence about a bill he signed in Indiana banning women from aborting fetuses with “genetic abnormalities.”
Wallace’s saying “a gay” is absurd. This goes into the category of political labels like “an illegal,” which fail a basic rule of usage: people are nouns, not adjectives. Next, set aside the fact all this Passion of the Homophobic Baker martyrdom is the made-up contrivance of the Pyramid Schemers and email chain hustlers who cynically pimp the Chick-fil- A faithful for donations, by monetizing a baseline-level outrage over “happy holidays,” “sharia law,” or whatever’s making Jesus cry this week. Outrage, Inc.
Even so, we’re writhing with one of our episodic fits over “religious freedom” as code for “freedom to discriminate.” A generation ago, it was “state’s rights,” as shorthand for: No N****** Allowed. Notably, here’s how Pence answered Wallace’s question:
“Chris, if I was in a restaurant and I saw someone denied service because they were gay, my family wouldn't eat there again…I don't support discrimination against anyone.”
You can tell that response was extensively work-shopped with an image-consultant. It does exactly what it’s designed to do: bury the lede. Namely – to no one’s surprise – Pence still supports the law he signed. And Pence’s answer epitomizes exactly the kind of reasons people gave in the 60s for opposing civil rights laws: I *personally* have no problem with coloreds, but others should have the “freedom” to, if they want to.
Conservatives are trapped in a mind warp of their own making – of Goldwaterian origin – which confuses opposing something in one’s personal life as a substitute for opposing it in one’s political life. But a public official whose theory of their job is to merely affirm private acts of altruism has an insufficient understanding of what politics is.
By looking for discrimination – against women, or minorities, or LGBTQ folks – at the point of sale, conservatives like Pence set up an impossible standard. One I suspect they know will never be met, because few are dumb enough to discriminate that openly. So, there’s usually nothing for a third party onlooker – the proverbial ‘other customer’ in the restaurant – to witness.
Discrimination, in general, doesn’t happen that way.
Resumes with ethnic-“sounding” names get very different responses from employers;
Rental applications with ethnic-“sounding” names get very different responses from landlords;
Black and brown mortgage applications get peddled subprime “ghetto loans,” even when by income and credit that qualify for prime-rate loans;
Race can adversely affect the treatment doctors give their patients;
Everybody shoots black people faster
Dark-skin defendants suffer longer sentences and the death penalty more often than lighter-skinned defendants.
But, keep standing in that restaurant waiting for a lesbian to be denied service, Mike Pence! Because that’s totally how discrimination happens. Just like a hand-to- hand, open-air drug exchange.
Like in The Wire. Or something.
Next, challenged by Wallace on the abortion-genetic defect bill he signed into law, Pence explained, “We took a stand…that abortions for the reason of race or sex are morally offensive.”
And, he “cherish[es] those who have disabilities.” So women shouldn’t abort fetuses with “physical challenges” either, he said.
The stones on this guy! Pence’s ticket has zero moral credibility on this issue. The man atop his ticket has mocked a disabled reporter. Trump has been sued repeatedly for violating the Americans with Disabilities
Act (ADA). He said he’s “not required” to make his buildings wheelchair-accessible. Trump appears to think the ADA is just a series of suggestions.
Finally, Wallace asked about “genetic abnormalities.” Pence answered about race. Does Mike Pence think being born black is a genetic abnormality?
And, what – in all of the Earth – is an “abortion for the reason of race”? Are white women having black babies? If so, they’re called biracial. I know, because two of them are my nephews. And if Pence got his Sex-Ed from one of those abstinence-only high schools, he might not understand that white women don’t just *receive* biracial babies in the mail from the Stork, on like…‘accident.’
Pence should watch Jungle Fever. Or read Loving v. Virginia. We’ze free now! And that ish is legal, yo! Whatever “abortion for the reason of race” is, this is rich (!) coming from a guy who opposed the 1991 Civil Rights Act, as Pence did. Even more to the point, too many Republicans display an attitude ranging between lax and oblivious (depending on whether it’s Black History Month or not) toward actual racial discrimination. That makes his invoking race here cynical, crass, and sneakily suspicious.
Pro-lifers who, like Pence, only seem to locate race when discussing abortion, engage in special pleading for race only in this context, a concern for the subject they don’t demonstrate anywhere else. Change the context to racial discrimination in policing, or mortgage lending, or employment discrimination, or exclusionary zoning, or health or wealth inequities and they get ghost. Suddenly these same conservatives can’t seem to find racial discrimination with a flashlight, and a map, and Doppler radar! Any other time, these people are telling us that America is “colorblind.”
Being pro-life is fine. But if Mike Pence really wanted to do something about racial discrimination, he’d be pushing against exclusionary zoning, and redlining, and for criminal justice reform and dozens of other policies that would actually close real racial gaps.
I won’t hold my breath waiting.