Ethics Dunce: The Delaware State Human Relations Commission, et al.

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]

11 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: The Delaware State Human Relations Commission, et al.

  1. Two of my favorite quotes:

    “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.” (Friedrich von Schiller).

    “The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.” (Albert Einstein).

    • “Stupidity is uncountable.” (Georg Cantor)

      Ok, I made it up but Cantor would have attested to the truth of this theorem. 🙂

  2. Ladies like the complainer seem to be the equivalent to African-Americans as Andy Choudary is to Muslims; a wholly negative and unneeded influence, attempting to keep the moiety between cultures apart for some some ungodly reason.

    I work at a movie theater, and I’ve never been accused of racism for something I did there, but I doubt I would respond in any way but direct and stern refutation. Accusations of racism are like bombs; they should not be used carelessly.

    What was the previous article where you said “Where is the ACLU?” Were they busy with this cockamamie case?

  3. That’s the way people stay relevant. You’ve got to make some noise and rattle the cage occasionally to remind people that your job is important.

    This is from the homepage of the Delaware Office of Human Relations, erstwhile employer of the complainant:

    The Office of Human Relations and the State Human Relations Commission promote >>>amicable<<< relationships among the various racial and cultural groups within the State. In addition to administering Delaware's Equal Accommodations Law and Fair Housing Law, the Commission works to increase public awareness of civil and human rights in Delaware.

    Emphasis on "amicable" is mine; laugh or cry, you decide. 🙂

  4. If the manager had a pattern of making that announcement in front of mostly black audiences, but not mostly white audiences, there might be some evidence of different treatment, but I don’t think that would even rise to the level of harrassment.

  5. Completely off topic. It’s gonna be a slow Ethics Alarms day if Jack is doing multiple seminars. So let’s have some fun.

    Hypothetically, what would happen if you took a medium sized state (like Colorado) and removed all of the laws, fair housing, ACLU organizations related to protecting against harassment and protecting free speech.

    Would it be chaos? Or would there be occasional bad actors who couldn’t be punished?

    • What time frame are we looking at? Are we assuming current attitudes and range of people or are we idealizing? Do we assume these laws and protections could not be brought back?

      I see limited bad actors at first, but with escalation. Evenutally there would be areas of tyranny of the majority and areas that are more “free” depending on the locals at each stop. Eventual equilibrium of a general state of worry in the minorities broken with pockets of rebellion and more atrocious behavior.

      • Interesting. I was thinking the scenario with current attitudes. Take the U.S. as it is and if Colorado was the only state to, in a sense, “reboot”. Would the current level of respect and dignity persist based on neighboring states, would it increase because people banded together to prove a new way of operating, or would it decrease because people would take it as some sort of “holiday” to wrong their fellow citizens?

        Given that we don’t even have equality for our non-heterosexual communities as it is, I’m sure the answer is a complete degradation.

  6. “Presuming racial motives behind every perceived slight or arguably rude behavior is a recipe for permanent racial disharmony and societal discord…” THANK YOU!!! It’s about time someone stood up and said knee-jerk rushes to sound the racism alarm like this need to come to a screeching halt if We The People ever hope to break down the barriers between racial groups and start living in unity and harmony as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned. Too bad this very tactic is found right at the top of Page One in the playbooks of “leaders” like Louis Farrakhan, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton…

  7. Who, BTW, makes up these “human rights commissions”, how do they get those positions and what are the powers invested in them? Ever since the emergence in Canada of such groups- who seem to have the power of little soviets in enforcing political correctness on one and all… and with the power of government behind them- I’ve come to view any such organization with great suspicion. It would seem to me that courts and attorneys general, operating under the law, relegate these “commissions” automatically to the level of “political sops”. At best.

    Good quotes from Curmudgeon.

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