Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dreadful Jury

Seriously, y'all need to stop giving me these cases, if only to check my terrible puns. Anyway, the Supreme Court of South Carolina has ruled 3-2 that an attorney striking a juror on account of his dreadlocks constituted an impermissible race-based challenge and is unconstitutional. Courts have been rather resistant to protecting so-called "performative" aspects of one's racial identity, which is a problem, because race-linked cultural tags provide an easy way to circumvent anti-discrimination protections while still claiming to be following the letter of the law.

Even if one is not consciously trying to game the system, in an environment where it is "wrong" to hold negative opinions of people by virtue of the race, those sort of sentiments will be shifted towards "acceptable" prejudices that serve much the same function. "I don't dislike the juror because he's Black, I dislike him because he has dreadlocks" serves as psychological rationale that lets one maintain their status as a good person. If the man didn't wear dreadlocks, it would be something else (baggy clothes, afros, rap music). And for those African-American folks who have nothing tagging themselves as Black to the outside world -- well, sometimes they'll make it through (proof that we're fair after all), and sometimes we'll simply fall back on flimsier abstracts ("he just didn't feel right to me").

There's an extent to which this is all unavoidable. But there's also an extent to which we can clearly say "the law doesn't have to help". If people are going to use proxies to actualize their prejudices, at the very least we can make them be more creative about it.

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