Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The city of Paris, Texas has been in the news lately as a result of recent racial tensions, fostered in part by the killing last September of an African American man by two white men who were his friends. It is not clear that the killing was racially motivated, although it may have been, but civil rights advocates have suggested that the town police did a poor investigation into the killing and the state was reluctant to prosecute because of the victim's race. A year earlier a young African American woman was sentenced to juvenile prison after she shoved a hall monitor into a wall while three months earlier, the same judge had sentenced a white girl the same age to probation for burning down her family’s house. The racial tension in the town was serious enough that the Department of Justice sent a team of community mediators to get residents to begin talking about the problem and to propose possible resolutions.
This tension has manifested into alleged employment discrimination, as well. According to an article in today's Chicago Tribune,
Now fresh racial tensions are erupting inside one of the town's biggest employers, the Turner Industries pipe fabrication plant, where black employees charge that hangman's nooses, Confederate flags and racist graffiti have been appearing throughout the workplace for months.
One worker, Karl Mitchell, took pictures of the offensive symbols in early February and filed a formal complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission last week. Other African-American employees assert that they've repeatedly complained about the racist symbols to their bosses, only to be ignored or told to keep quiet.
Officers at the plant's headquarters deny that they knew of any discrimination at the plant and have begun an investigation.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again, it seems that at least every couple of years a big story like this breaks, and we see behavior straight out of the 1970s. Mike Selmi has even written about it in these terms, as Seventies-style discrimination. For all of the scholarly work on the subtlety of modern discrimination or the institutional forms it takes, these examples suggest to me that the subtlety may often mask the kind of overt discrimination that is the core behavior Title VII was designed to eradicate.