Halsey’s Lament And The Great Hotel Shampoo Ethics Challenge

When pop star Halsey took to Twitter to complain that the shampoo and conditioner typically made available to guests in hotel bathrooms are useful, if at all, only to women with “white people hair,” the immediate reaction in many quarters was that the race-victimization industry must be running out of outrages. “I’ve been traveling for years now and it’s been so frustrating that the hotel toiletry industry entirely alienates people of color,” she tweeted. (No, I never heard of her before either.) “I can’t use this perfumed watered down white people shampoo. Neither can 50% of ur customers. Annoying.” First she was accused of being white—she isn’t, believe it or not—

—then she was mocked for being ridiculous: surely the rich celebrity can afford to travel with her own hair products! But when one ponders a bit, Halsey has raised an interesting ethics dilemma.

After the commentary got rolling on social media, black women and women who were of mixed race genetic make-up spoke up to say that the singer was right: unless a woman had generic Caucasian hair, those little bottles make a mess of her coiffure.  “We’re not all millionaires, yet we all do stay at hotels and would appreciate if the shampoo didn’t turn our hair into Brillo pads,” wrote a Twitter user.

“Who knew me acknowledging that white hair care products are the national standard (while POC are confined to a tiny aisle) would piss so many people off. Not sorry,”Halsey persisted.  “If white ppl can enjoy the luxury/convenience, there should be an option for everyone to. It’s an ‘insignificant’ example of a bigger problem. That’s all!”

 Another fan wrote: “You need to remember this is one of the many small things that POC go through that makes them feel like we don’t matter enough to be catered to. It’s a microaggression.”

Is it really a microaggression? Or is it it just one of those realities of not being the majority that minorities have decided they should protest to bend society to their will? Is the fact that so many tools, appliances and other daily necessities are made for right-handed people a sign of hostility, or just a rational business decision? Hotel shampoo isn’t great (being bald, I find it makes good bubble bath, however), but it’s provided for those who want to use it. The “we’re not all millionaires” argument for the average person staying in a luxury hotel like the ones Halsey stays in is a stretch, but nonetheless, is it fair that hotels cater to the needs of the majority of women while ignoring the special needs of a minority? On the other hand, is it reasonable to expect hotels to spend the extra money to make multiple varieties of conditioners and shampoos available so no one feels discriminated against? Should I have to pay extra so Halsey isn’t offended?

Coincidentally, this week also brought the news that many hotels, as a cost saving initiative, were eliminating the small bottled entirely in favor of wall dispensers. I could easily see enough social justice warrior indignation being raised over racist shampoo that hotels decide, “Oh the hell with it. Let’s just stop stocking the stuff.” Would minority activists consider this a victory? Jack can’t enjoy his bubble bath any more because hotels had to choose between providing a tiny amenity to the vast majority of its guests and getting accused of “microaggression,” or spending a fortune to stock their bathrooms with sufficient varieties of hair products that nobody could complain of discrimination?

The controversy is really a smaller and more trivial version of the wheelchair-accessible transportation problem that I last wrote about here. I concluded then,

There are now 655 wheelchair accessible taxis in the New York city area.  I’d love to see statistics on how often they are used by the passengers they are designed to serve.  My guess: not that often. As much as anything else, this is an interest group power-play. It is discrimination, they insist,  if handicapped passengers have to wait longer than non-handicapped. New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission has proposed broad new requirements for wheelchair-accessible service for the entire for-hire industry including Uber and the other ride-hail companies. Naturally: they want to put ride-sharing companies out of business, and this could do it.

Government has a legitimate interest in making basic public accommodations reasonably and sufficiently accessible to citizens with handicaps, to the extent this is possible and financially feasible without reducing reasonable access for the non-handicapped majority, or putting companies out of business that can’t reasonably be expected to make expensive mandated adjustments. The government does not have an obligation to spend taxpayer dollars and to bully businesses so the handicapped can avoid all of  the inconveniences attendant to their misfortune. Nor is it the government’s function to ensure that handicapped citizens don’t have to plan their days.

Or that people with frizzy hair don’t have to carry their own shampoo and conditioner when they travel.

I can’t see without my glasses, and can’t wear contacts. If I go to a 3-D movie, I am very uncomfortable wearing the 3-D specs over my own glasses.  Isn’t that unfair? Isn’t that a microaggression against my handicap? Shouldn’t the theaters be forced to provide 3-D glasses that I can use as comfortably as anyone else? How is that argument any different from the protests of the Frizzy Hair Activists?

Halsey put her Twitter-finger on an ancient questions that divides nations, religions and ideologies. Is fairness possible, when everyone’s needs and expectations are different?

TO THE POLL!!!

Now THIS Is An Unethical Stickler For Policy…

I love this story! It’s a classic example of the unethical bureaucratic mindset. It shows that it isn’t only American brain-on-autopilot officials who embarrass the human race this way. Best of all, it’s from France, as far away from the ridiculous NFL protest than isn’t a protest and the President’s obsession with it as possible.

Frenchman Philippe Croizon gained international fame in 2010 when he swam the English Channel without the use of his arms or legs, because he has no arms or legs. He is almost certainly the most famous quadruple amputee in the world, and definitely the best armless and legless long-distance swimmer, if you don’t count fish. Yet when he recently tried to board a train, he was blocked by a railway employee who asked for proof that he was disabled. (Disabled passengers get a discount on train tickets in France). Here is Croizon…

The controller insisted on seeing his state issued disability card.  Croizon was in a wheelchair. He has no legs or arms. Never mind: if you can’t prove you’re disabled by producing the proper documentation, the controller insisted, then you aren’t disabled.

Eventually other passengers made such a commotion that the controller gave up and took Croizon at his word. When I first started reading about this, I thought that the guy was arguing that if Cruizon could swim the channel, he wasn’t disabled. Of course, this would mean that French porpoises couldn’t get their discounts either. Or the Little Mermaid.

Croizon is apparently an amazingly nice guy. He tweeted about the incident, but unlike everyone who has read about it and responded on social media, he refuses to condemn his tormenter, and wrote the controller was just doing his job.

“I wanted to take things with a sense of humor and do not get to insults,” he wrote. “This gentleman may have had a bad day, he may be tired, I don’t know.”

It was generous and kind for Croizon to try to give this officious fool a hand,  but he really doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

(I’m sorry.)

Unethical Quote Of The Day: Valerie Joseph, Wheelchair-Bound Uber User And Class Action Litigant

“I feel frustrated because I have to plan my day.I can’t do things on a whim. I have to plan it days in advance.”

Valerie Joseph, litigant in  class-action lawsuit accusing Uber of discriminating against New York City riders with disabilities by providing inadequate access to wheelchair-accessible cars .

Could there possibly be a better quote to exemplify the entitled mentality of so many Americans, and the unethical values they have somehow extracted from our political culture?

Yes, Valerie, you are handicapped. I’m sorry about that, but I’m not responsible for it. Nor are you entitled to make me, and businesses, and the government pay to ensure that society can mitigate every inconvenience created by your misfortune. You do not have the luxury of doing things “on a whim.” Neither do single mothers. Neither do small business entrepreneurs who have substantial debt. It’s your life, deal with it. I also have to plan my days because of circumstances beyond my control. It’s called adulthood. Grow the hell up.

The lawsuit Valerie champions, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan by the non-profit Disability Rights Advocates is a classic. It is seeking to risk putting Uber out of business and remove its lower-cost transportation options for the vast, vast majority of the public by insisting on expensive retrofitting of the company’s cars that would benefit a tiny minority.

The Taxis for All Campaign filed a similar discrimination lawsuit over yellow taxis, virtual legal extortion that resulted in a settlement requiring half of all yellow taxis to be wheelchair accessible by 2020. Thus the litigants in the Uber suit already have an acceptable option: call a cab.  There are now 655 wheelchair accessible taxis in the New York city area.  I’d love to see statistics on how often they are used by the passengers they are designed to serve.  My guess: not that often. As much as anything else, this is an interest group power-play. It is discrimination, they insist,  if handicapped passengers have to wait longer than non-handicapped. New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission has proposed broad new requirements for wheelchair-accessible service for the entire for-hire industry including Uber and the other ride-hail companies. Naturally: they want to put ride-sharing companies out of business, and this could do it. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “’Miracle Flights’: More Air Travel Cheating”

Frequent commenter Barry Deutsch provides some useful counterweight (as usual) to an Ethics Alarms post, this one regarding fake handicapped flyers in airports. Here is his Comment of the Day, on the recent post, “Miracle Flights”: More Air Travel Cheating”:

“Eh. I’m sure some people do cheat – but I’m also sure that some people who the article implies are cheaters, aren’t doing anything of the sort.

“I’m not usually bothered by the five-minute walk from when I get out of security to my gate in the Portland airport. But standing on the security line is much harder. First of all, it can easily take up to 20 minutes if the airport is crowded, so I’m standing for much longer. And even if it’s only five minutes, standing still (with occasional shuffling) is just much, much harder on me than walking is. My bad knee and heel, normally slight nuisances that I ignore while walking, sometimes scream with pain waiting on line. Continue reading

“Miracle Flights”: More Air Travel Cheating

I wondered about this.

“If you don’t tell anyone that I won a Silver in the Olympic hurdles this summer, there’s 50 bucks in it for you… Deal?”

When I was recovering from a hip replacement, and even before, when it was getting painful to walk, I requested wheel chairs from the airlines when I had to fly. It was wonderful. A nice attendant whisked me in front of the lines and through security, and I was also the first person on the plane. Nobody ever asked me what was the nature of my disability; they just trusted that I wouldn’t engage in such a dastardly act as to fake being hobbled—you know, just like nobody would pretend to be someone else to steal a vote. Never happens—why do anything to  check? The system—I mean the wheelchair system, now, not the voting honor system—seemed ripe for abuse to me, but before today, I had never heard of anyone exploiting it.

According to a recent report, a lot of people do. Continue reading

Those Military Baggage Fees: Bad Journalism and Bad PR, Not Bad Ethics

The 24 hour news cycle and blogger feeding frenzy often produce snap ethical judgments that defy the facts, logic, and fairness. Today’s example: the supposed “outrage” of Delta Air Lines making Army reservists returning from combat in Afghanistan pay excess-bag fees. A Colorado soldier posted a YouTube video complaining that their unit had to pay $2,800 for extra checked bags, and you would have thought the airlines made the soldiers fly while strapped to the wing. “You’re not going to believe this!” said “Fox and Friends” goof Steve Doocy, introdoocying the story as if it was an act of domestic terrorism. There were similar expressions of horror on CNN’s Headline News and on the local news in Wilmington, Delaware, where I was staying yesterday while doing a musical ethics program for the Wilmington Bar. And yet…

Delta did nothing wrong or inappropriate.

The staff followed policy. What were they supposed to do, spontaneously waive thousands of dollars in luggage fees out of respect for our soldiers…and have to make it up out of their own pay? The military already gets a substantial break on checked baggage; the soldiers were complaining about having to pay for bags that exceeded Delta’s limit for waiving the fees on soldiers’ bags. But if the flights are related to the soldiers’ duties, why are the domestic airlines responsible for paying their expenses? (By the way, what the soldiers don’t pay for gets passed in costs to the non-military passengers.) Simple answer: the domestic airlines are not responsible, and should not be.

When I travel on business dictated by a client or employer, the client or employer pays my costs…just like the U.S. Government pays the travel expenses of soldiers flying to and from deployments. That’s right: soldiers get reimbursements from the military for additional costs if their orders require the expense and they submit receipts. Why, then, was it Delta’s responsibility to pick up the tab for these soldiers’ extra bags, and proof of evil corporate America’s unpatriotic greed that they asked the soldiers for the already-discounted fees for excess luggage instead?

I repeat: It wasn’t. A couple of soldiers didn’t know their own expense reimbursement procedures, used YouTube to make a misrepresentation go viral, and the media indulges its reflex reaction to fault businesses and fall worshiping at the boots of our young warriors. Nobody bothered to think, much less check facts, before condemning the Delta. Terrified, as ever, of any negative publicity, deserved or not, Delta abjectly apologized (for doing nothing wrong), and was followed by other carriers in eliminating bag fees to avoid getting the stink-eye from Bill O’Reilly. Delta said it would allow four bags for free. United said it had increased the number of free military checked bags from three to four. American said it will allow five free bags instead of three for military personnel. This is nice enough, of course, but it is pure public relations nonsense.

These airlines will charge seniors traveling by necessity to an assisted living complex for every bag they check, and the military isn’t going to pay their expenses once they gut the receipts. Do the airlines let military veterans check their bags for free?  Priests and nuns, who have taken vows of poverty? Handicapped travelers, who are unable to carry on heavy bags? The disabled only get two free bags, at best, before they are charged 50 bucks per additional piece. How about pregnant women? The unemployed, relocating to a new city to look for jobs…any breaks for ? Ethically, there are much more compelling arguments for giving breaks to any of these flyers than active duty soldiers, who are going to be reimbursed by the military anyway, and should be.

I am not sure even that would be appropriate, however. I don’t think that the airlines should be in the business of charging different fees to travelers in different circumstances; it requires value judgments that I do not trust the airlines to make fairly or rationally. Next we’ll be seeing waived bag fees for registered Republicans, attractive blondes and vegans, or whoever screams the loudest or has the most vocal lobby. The proper, ethical and fair way to do business is to have the same rules for everyone.

Except Steve Doocy and the rest of the media. Charge them double.