Discrimination Based on Appearance

Posted by Curtis Miller Curtis Miller

I had a conversation recently about discriminating against someone based on their appearance. Appearance, in this case, being controllable outward appearance such as body art, hairstyles, clothing, etc. My stance was that discrimination is wrong in all its forms, should not be allowed in the workplace, and each person should strive to ignore appearance when dealing with another person. The opposition stated that it was their right as a business owner to discriminate based on appearance.

I think that as long as a person is performing their work at a satisfactory level, then there is no problem. My sister-in-law is forced to cover her tattoos at her workplace, either with clothing or makeup. Why? As if nobody has seen a tattoo before or most of the people she deals with don't have tattoos. Personally, I don't care if she exposes them at work, nor do I care if other people have visible tattoos, piercings, or uncommon hair-styles.

Some discrimination is banned through law, so I asked the people I was debating why it was okay to discriminate for certain things and not others. They said those protections were for things you could not control. Yet there is one protection in particular that you can control (although this might be debatable too), religion. In my opinion, religion is a choice, just as the clothes you wear, your hairstyle, tattoos, piercings, etc. are all choices. In this instance, a person's choice is protected from discrimination by law.

It's a sad fact that discrimination is alive and well in many forms and will probably never go away. Humans are too visually inclined to ignore outward appearance and, therefore, anything that is different is caught by the human eye. I don't think laws can help except as a reactive measure to discrimination. It is not possible to introduce a law and then have everyone just stop discriminating. It is a more deeply rooted problem that cannot be washed away in such a short time.

A little bit of background about where I am coming from in this debate. At my previous employer, I was a member of their Diversity Council…yes, it was a large enough company to have an employee-run diversity group. We were very active in promoting diversity in the workplace. This extended to more than just race and gender, as is so commonly thought of when speaking of diversity. Our goal was to open the eyes of the employees to the plethora of differences in humanity – and there are many. These differences are what make humans so unique and wonderful. This experience also helped opened my own eyes, or rather, helped shut them. It will probably be a lifelong struggle for me, but it is a struggle I look forward to. When you cannot see a person's differences, only then are you truly aware.

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