Paula Deen and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

July 9, 2013

Next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Passed at a time when racial discrimination in America was at its height, the act appropriately addressed discriminatory practices by government institutions.  For example, Titles I, III, and IV of the act, made it illegal for government to:  impose unequal application of voter registration requirements, deny access to public facilities on grounds of race, color, religion, or national origin, and continue to segregate public schools.

Two other titles, however, have always been controversial – Title II dealing with public accommodations and Title VII dealing with employment discrimination.  Both should be repealed.

Now, it’s not hard to understand why these mandates were included in the act at that time.  People of color being denied access to lunch counters and hotel accommodations were commonplace.  Discriminatory employment practices were rampant.

But, a lot has changed since 1964.  Take Paula Deen’s current so-called racial slur controversy.  By her simply admitting in a legal deposition that she used the N-word decades ago, she has been financially devastated.  To date, 12 companies have discontinued their relationship with her including Random House, Food Network, Smithfield, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, J.C. Penney, Sears, Walgreens, and QVC.  In the end, the loss to her bottom line will be in the tens of millions of dollars and this doesn’t even include potential lost sales at her restaurants due to the scandal.  Again, this is simply for admitting the use of a derogatory racial term a long time ago.

It is reasonable to believe that the reaction would be the same if Deen had denied service to or refused to hire people of color at her restaurants.

Also, let’s not forget that we live in an age where political revolutions are organized through social networking and the rescue of a dog from tornado rubble is seen on live TV.  In fact, that poignant scene inspired many to send money to help the pup and his master recover from the tornado’s destruction.

Thus, technology has become the great enabler.  It provides us with information and then gives us a platform to act.  If Deen had denied her lunch counter to anyone, a simple text message to a news outlet would publicize the event widely.  A campaign through facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social networks could be launched to boycott or picket the restaurant.  Instead of violating her property rights, the market with assistance from technology could right the injustice.

And that is what this really comes down to – property rights.  Titles II and VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, with the best of intentions, trampled on property rights in America.   As Ron Paul has so eloquently stated, “The rights of private property owners, even those whose actions decent people find abhorrent, must be respected if we are to maintain a free society.  That is why Titles II and VII should be repealed and why the market should be employed instead to right injustice.

Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a residence in North Carolina.

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