Allowing Private Businesses to Discriminate

November 14, 2016Categories: Uncomfortable Ideas,

The Dr. Bo Show with Bo Bennett, PhD
The Dr. Bo Show is a critical thinking-, reason-, and science-based approach to issues that matter. It is the podcast of social psychologist Bo Bennett. As of 2020, this podcast is a collection of topics related to all of his books.

A baker in Colorado refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple because, "Gays are an abomination." The owner of a coffee shop in Alabama has a sign on the door that reads, "No Muslims Allowed." A personal trainer out of Vermont refuses to accept Trump voters as clients, because "they are racists, bigots, just like Trump." Should the government step in and force private business owners to do business with people they don't like, no matter what their reasoning?

Uncomfortable Idea: Allowing private businesses to discriminate is not as horrible as it sounds.
What if the government prevented discrimination in our private relationships? For example, if we were all required to date an array of ethnically, racially, sexually, mentally, and physically diverse group of people. And don't forget dating some senior citizens, otherwise that would be ageism. Most people would scream "the government should stay out of our bedrooms," and they would have a good point. So why is it okay to invite governments into our private businesses?

There are actually many good arguments for making it illegal for private businesses to discriminate. Without the Civil Rights Act of 1964, discrimination and prejudice founded on ignorance would never have become as socially unacceptable as it is today. This law forced Americans to face the uncomfortable ideas of their own ignorance and unjustified hatred, and brought about change at a faster pace than "the market" ever could on its own through boycotts and other market-driven forces. But let's not forget that there are costs involved when we choose to let our government legislate private behaviors, specifically, giving up some of our freedoms. It is a slippery slope that we have seen lead to the government overreaching. Conservatives would prefer government stay out of private business... unless that private business takes place in our bedrooms. Liberals would prefer that government step in and regulate private business in the name of justice... unless that private business has to do with abortion. We all want the protection of our government, but only to the extent that it is consistent with our personal values.

If private businesses were allowed to discriminate, then for every racist coffee shop, homophobic baker, and political extremest fitness trainer, there would be an opportunity for an inclusive coffee shop, open-minded baker, and politically indifferent fitness trainer to win business, shape the market, and make it abundantly clear that discrimination is unacceptable—not because the government said that it was illegal, but because it is simply wrong. It would be an interesting social and political experiment, but we would also have to be prepared that the consequences of such government inaction could be disastrous.

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