We are a nation of Democrats and Republicans and we haven’t asked ourselves why. The more we tie ourselves to a political party the more we forfeit independent thinking. We become biased.
If we believe something as true it is hard to recognize when it is not. Mark Twain said it best: It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
Before I take this to where I really want to go, here is a story from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Abbie Conant is an American trombonist who was selected in a blind audition as the overwhelming first choice for Principal Trombonist of the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in 1980 but faced discrimination once the selection committee learned they’d chosen a woman.
The auditions were held with musicians and the selection committee separated by a screen, a practice that was unusual at the time, because one of the other 32 musicians auditioning was the son of a prominent musician. After her audition, the orchestra’s then Guest Conductor Sergiu Celibidache exclaimed “That’s who we want!”
After they made their selection, the selection committee was shocked to discover their winner, whom they’d mistakenly invited to audition as “Herr Conant,” was a woman. What followed was thirteen years of subtle and blatant harassment by Celibidache, who had since been promoted to Music Director. He demoted her to second trombone and refused to give her solos, explaining that “we need a man for solo trombone.” Conant successfully sued the Philharmonic for discrimination and got the position of first trombone back in 1988. She sued them again for back pay when she discovered that, per Celibidache’s orders, she’d been paid less than her male colleagues.
By now we know that our prisons are overcrowded and the majority of people in prisons are in for committing non-violent crimes. We also know that the less wealthy and minorities are overly represented in this prison population.
The police are going to continue to roundup people that may have committed crimes. But do the courts have to continue to convict minorities and the less wealthy at greater rates than the more effluent?
The trombone was thought to be a “masculine” instrument, played in military marching bands. The director didn’t believe a woman could play it as well as a man.
Do jurors believe minorities and the less wealthy are guilty based on their appearance. If the same facts are given to jurors and they come up with different verdicts for minorities than they do for non-minorities, is that fair?
For centuries, the fact that women couldn’t play certain instruments as well as men seemed like common sense. Their lungs weren’t as powerful, their hands and lips were smaller, and whenever experts held auditions, men’s playing sounded better. This was the effect of sensation transference. The player’s gender identity influenced how he or she sounded to the audience. (Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller, Blink)
What if defendants could request to sit behind a curtain where the jury couldn’t see them? What if District Attorneys were not shown a picture of the defendant and did not meet them face to face. What if the juror wasn’t given any information about the ethnicity of the defendant, period?
I encourage anybody who is curious about their decision making process to read Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell. It will make you think about how you think.
Where can we take this?
One last thought. In 1910 Franklin Roosevelt won a State Senate seat. In analyzing Roosevelt’s victory, one can cite the fortuitous historical moment, the split in the Republican Party between progressives and conservatives that produced Democratic victories across the nation. (Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership in Turbulent Times).