Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What is Discrimination Anyway?

Does Sex/Race discrimination include discrimination against someone acting like an a??hole?

In 1970, I had just graduated from university and became an articling chartered accounting student. The apprenticship program had just changed, and more changes were occurring in hiring practices. I had gone to work in Toronto for one of the largest accounting firms in the world. That year, they hired about 25 of us as first year students in the downtown Toronto office at Bay Street.

Among that group were one woman, one black man, one Israeli Jew, and a bunch of white Anglo Saxon guys. I had just moved to Toronto from London. At that time, I knew what a woman was, had had very limited exposure to black people, due to where I was raised, and had never met an Israeli Jew before.

The woman was a really enjoyable person to work with. The black man was a really nice guy, whose company everybody enjoyed. However, the Israeli Jew was a jerk. He made up stories, was arrogant, tried to get others to do his work for him, and was in short a pain in the a??. He made no efforts to fit in, and made every effort to be obstreperous.

So, we pranked him at the company orientation week at Trent University that summer. First, we took a bucket of cold water and set it up so that when he opened the door to his room, it would fall on him from the dresser near the door. The next day, we took his bed and hid it in the washroom down the hall. It seemed funny at the time. Not so much almost 40 years later.

After that we avoided him like the plague. Sometime that Fall, he returned to Israel, and we bid him a not so fond farewell.

If the woman had acted like he did, we would have pranked her. If the black man acted like he did, we would have pranked him. If I acted like he did, they would have pranked me.

We were a bunch of early twenty somethings at the time. Long on energy, short on smarts and sensitivity. Today I would go out of my way to ignore an a??hole like that. But, at the time, we took it as a challenge, and rose to it.

If the Israeli Jew, the woman, the black man or I had raised a Human Rights Commission complaint for being pranked as a discrimination complaint, I expect that the complaints of the Jew, the woman, and the black man would prevail, and the complaint of the white man (me in this case) would fail.

But I can tell you that we honestly pranked an a??hole, not a Jew, or a woman or a black man or a white man.

I don't think what we did was right. I also don't think that the confusion of a HRC investigation would have made it any more wrong, or would have resolved it. Because the last thing it was about was human rights as defined in current legislation.

It was about people treating each other with respect, which none of the parties to this incident did, including the Israeli Jew from the day he arrived on the scene. I know that I did not respect him and treat him accordingly. You can't legislate this stuff, and force it down people's throats, and try to find a discrimination label to put on it to make it fit. You have to learn it, often the hard way.

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