Justice finally prevailed in a disturbing Delaware case that took hyper-sensitivity to racial bias to absurd extremes. You can read the court opinion here. In essence, the Delaware State Human Relations Commission found that a theater manager who supplemented an on-screen request for patrons to turn off their cell phones, not talk during the film and not mill around in the theater with his personal announcement to the same effect was engaged in racial discrimination, because most of the audience was black and some felt that his tone was condescending.
Even though the theater manager returned to the theater to apologize when this accusation was relayed to him, a woman named Juana Fuentes-Bowles, the Director of the State Human Relations Division, stood up and announced that she believed the audience had been racially harassed, and took names for a complaint.
The complaint was brought, and the theater chain lost, with the Delaware State Human Relations Commission levying a $60,000 fine. The Delaware Supreme Court reversed. One of its many reasons was that there were white audience members in the audience as well, and they received the same admonitions as the black audience members.
This was a jaw-droppingly stupid case, and an unfair ordeal to put the theater and the manager through. Yet the Commission decided it had merit. Presuming racial motives behind every perceived slight or arguably rude behavior is a recipe for permanent racial disharmony and societal discord, and the actions of Fuentes-Bowles demonstrates professional grievance bullying at its worst. Shockingly, the Delaware ACLU entered an appearance on behalf of the theater patrons. This is the kind of position that has eroded it reputation for objectivity and common sense over the last several decades.
If someone convinces themselves that an innocent statement is insulting, who is the wrongdoer? If an advocate with an agenda and a political correctness chip on her shoulder stirs up resentment, who is to blame? When a state commission will levy a $60, 000 fine on a business for something like this, does it not make businesses legitimately fearful of any dealings with minority groups? How does that benefit the community?
And finally, what was the perceived harm? If the theater didn’t want its black patrons to enjoy the film, why would it bother making any announcement at all? Why isn’t a sincere apology a complete remedy for perceived rudeness or disrespect?
In sum, this was race-bullying, conceived by a professional grievance-mongerer, Fuentes-Bowles, without due concern for matters of fairness and justice, and adjudicated by an incompetent state commission.
Here is a related topic for someone braver (at least today) than I am. How can we reconcile a white theater manager’s actions getting his theater chain fined on the theory that he made a special announcement presuming that a substantially black audience would be rowdy, with the popular routines of black comics like Chris Rock about noisy black movie audiences, as well as scenes like this one, from the Wayans brothers “Scary Movie”?
[Thanks to Eugene Volokh for the pointer]