kingston & the islands' NDP Blog

Monday, January 09, 2006

A letter on discrimination

C. Smith, a Kingston graphic designer, illustrator and journalist, recently wrote a letter to the Whig about institutionalized discrimination he faced at a local employer. It's a particularly timely reminder, given the recent apparent racial profiling by the Kingston police, that discrimination is still an issue in our society. We're lucky to live in the most tolerant society this continent has ever seen. But tolerance takes work. And there's still work to do. Dear Editor,       Recently, I was reminded of discrimination I thought had died several decades ago when I visited the [...] job fair. I had hopes of finding a new part-time job while I finish my final year at St. Lawrence College.       Upon entering, I was greeted warmly and invited to watch a recruitment video, which would be followed by an application and interview.       I realized, as I watched the seven minute film, that the company had mandatory drug tests, which I had no problem with and thought was a smart move for the company, but they also openly admitted to not hiring persons with visible tattoos.       As the video finished, I came to the conclusion the no visible tattoos rule was a problem for a person such as myself because I have both my arms sleeved [Ed -- covered in tattooos].       I was approached to fill out the application form and proceeded to inform the employee that I have tattoos covering both my arms, but that the tattoos are spiritual and family-related. I also showed him the tattoos, which have all been done professionally and in full colour.       (Included on my arms are a traditional Japanese Coi fish, several flowers in water, a family coat of arms, lobster trap, a Nova Scotian crest with my family's home town, a Poppy with a Remembrance Day motto, a heart made out of water, and a sunset, amongst others.)       At that point, I was no longer a welcome applicant. I was furious, but kept my thoughts to myself as I left the building with my resume firmly in hand. The question that comes to my mind is -- didn't 'negroes need not apply' and 'long-haired hippies need not apply' signs get eradicated? In the year 2006, is it still all right to openly discriminate against a person for their appearance?       This is a prime example of discrimination. Maybe if I were covered in offensive signs, such as Nazi swastikas and other disturbing imagery, or poorly executed tattoos it would be understandable. But I have experience working in several other corporate stores in similar roles, and those stores have hired me without question. I always end up being a valued employee and treat customers with mutual respect.       Why, then, should this store be any different from any other potential employers, and do they have any other prejudices when hiring? What if I'm too old, overweight, black, female, native, etc? This culture needs to wake up and start actually being the open-minded society it claims to be.       Artistic, creative and spiritual people will continue to get tattooed in a traditional fashion, and society needs to catch up to the times. A clean-cut, well-dressed and shaven individual, despite tattoos, is still a clean-cut, well-dressed and shaven individual. Sincerely, C. Smith Kingston Update (1/11/06): This post drew a comment from someone who thought I meant to imply that being turned down from a job is the same thing as being arrested for one's race. As I replied in the comments section, I didn't mean to suggest that being turned down for a job is the same thing as being arrested for one's race. That wasn't my intention at all, and I apologize if you read it that way. I do think that some folks who aren't people of color feel "Oh, discrimination only happens to other people." And I think this letter's a good reminder that whether it's for your background, your tattoos, your religion, your gender, your education, your socio-economic status, etc, discrimination in some form can touch almost anyone's life. If empathy and a sense of justice aren't enough to get everyone stirred up about discrimination, then perhaps a reminder of its universality is.

6 Comments:

Blogger Jacob said...

What an offensive letter. How dare that person compare what happened to him to discrimination against blacks.

And so whiny too. This company dodged a bullet.

The fact that you posted it in all seriousness and that you compared it to the racial profiling issue shows that the Kingston NDP is not a serious organization.

12:45 AM

 
Blogger Natalka said...

I'm sorry the letter offended you.
I didn't mean to suggest that being turned down for a job is the same thing as being arrested for one's race. That wasn't my intention at all, and I'm sorry you read it that way.

I do think that some folks who aren't people of color feel "Oh, discrimination only happens to other people." And I think this letter's a good reminder that whether it's for your background, your tattoos, your religion, your gender, your education, your socio-economic status, etc, discrimination in some form can touch almost anyone's life.

If empathy and a sense of justice aren't enough to get everyone stirred up about discrimination, then perhaps a reminder of its universality is.

Does recognizing this reality make the Kingston NDP "not a serious organization"? No. It means we recognize that discrimination in all forms, from racial profiling to a snub in the street, is an issue that we all need to address.

11:43 AM

 
Blogger Jacob said...

Good thing your pitching for tattoed whiners rights. If Simple Plan lived in Kingston, you might have a shot at winning.

Look, I'll take you at your word that you didn't intend to make the comparison. But the letter you blogged about does, and so you can see how others might draw that conclusion.

Anyway, the main reason there's no comparison is because being black is an intrinsic part of your identity. It's who you are. You're not born with tattoes, you don't have to get them. If you came to a job interview unshaven and disheveled you would be at a disadvantage, it's the same with tattoes.

Your weblog and your candidate (viz- his embarrassing performance at the debate last night) have done nothing to show the Kingston NDP to be a serious organization. This post tipped it over the edge.

2:18 PM

 
Blogger Natalka said...

Hi Jacob,

Good point, I'll update the post to make that clearer.

I think the issue's a little more complex than you're making it out to be. People face discrimination for more than just inborn traits like skin color. You're not born in any particular religion; you have to choose it. Poverty is neither birthright nor matter of choice.

I don't want to say "discriminating on the basis of tattoos is the same as discriminating on the basis of religion." But I have known quite a lot of tattooed folks personally and, for many modern tattooees, the decision to get a tattoo is a deeply personal decision and can even be a spiritual one. People take their tattoos pretty seriously, is what I'm saying.

(By the way, the letter's author was careful to mention that he was clean-shaven and well-presented when he was turned away from the interview.)

The important thing here is that discrimination in some form can touch any of us, tattoos or no. We thought this letter that Rob got illustrated that, so we decided to post it on the blog (with the author's permission).

It's not a plank in Rob's platform, a major moment in his campaign, or even a focus of the blog; it is the voice of one K&I constituent, and one that we thought worth sharing in one post on the blog.

I'm not sure what you mean by "a serious organization." We're really trying to get Rob elected. He really would make a good MP -- he's been active on the Left in Kingston for many years and is widely respected by the Left here; here's his bio. And, we really do believe in the NDP policies.

You can read more about the NDP's and Rob's positions on the issues here:
Kingston NDP Web Site

I appreciate the time you've taken to follow up here, even though you're obviously not thrilled with the Kingston NDP. If you've got any questions or comments about the issues, policies, platform or even Rob's background, feel free to follow up to this post or email us at info@ndpkingston.org .

9:11 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And what about shaving is exactly so appealing?

I think that this is discrimination for sure; so would be turning a bearded guy away.

8:39 PM

 
Anonymous Cali said...

I guess I'll just jump right in.

Natalka, I too face this very same problem. In fact i stumbled across this thread while i was searching for articles related to equal emplyment opportunites for a college paper.

Not to be rude, but I seriously do think that anyone who finds this "whiny" or offensive is missing the larger picture. This is clearly not how the world should be. Yes, we arent born with tattoos, you don't need to remind us of that. But its clearly a choice that we made for personal reasons, and the working place shouldn't be turn their nose up at that. It would be like not hiring someone because they were gay. It would be RIDICULOUS! but they can't help it becuase that's how they want to be and how they choose to be. And no one should have the authority to turn anyone down because they don't meet "normal peoples" standards.

-thanks

12:43 PM

 

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