John A. Tures: '42' reasons why discrimination just doesn't pay

February 28, 2014 

A year ago, audiences flocked to see the movie "42," about Jackie Robinson making it to the major leagues. People watched as several folks on the screen displayed racist attitudes that you found sometimes in 1947, some parents even teaching racism to their kids.

Thankfully, these were a noisy minority whose time would fade. Now we look at those who discriminate and shake our heads at the jerks. We wouldn't go back to those times, would we?

Sadly, several states are thinking about legalizing discrimination -- in the name of religious freedom, of all things. Arizona, Kansas and others are debating whether or not to allow people to discriminate against gays if their religious beliefs tell them it is OK to do that.

I think it's hard for people to appreciate discrimination, because many never faced it. I don't mean teasing, good-natured ribbing, or even mild bullying. I mean someone hating you for who you are, or who they think you are.

I was discriminated against. In a town I moved to, I called around trying to find a place that would cut my hair. After getting my name, the hair cutting places told me they couldn't work me in. Ever. Sorry.

So finally, for the final name on the list of haircutters who turned me down after hearing my name, I told them that everyone else in town had turned me down for a haircut. "Then where I am I supposed to get a haircut?"

"Why don't you go to one of those n----- salons?" the voice on the phone replied.

I have to admit being stunned. You see … I'm white. My name does sound Hispanic, but I'm not. So I went to a discount haircut place, with white and black people who cut my hair. They did a good job, so I've gone there nearly every time.

By the way, I once went back to the barber who told me to go to the "n----- salon" with a $10 bill and didn't tell him my name, just to see what he would do. He cut my hair without a problem. In his eyes, I was white.

A lot of the state discrimination laws are reacting to a lawsuit in which a gay couple sued a photographer who wouldn't take pictures for their wedding. I can understand their anger. But there may be a better solution to discrimination: economics.

In the movie "42," a gas station attendant tells Jackie Robinson he and his black teammates can't use his bathroom. He tells his teammates that they will go purchase the 99 gallons of gas for the team bus somewhere else … so the attendant wisely relents. Restaurants that didn't join the discrimination craze in the 1950s and 1960s did well, and even dominated the market. That's because discrimination is economically inefficient.

I've calculated that by discriminating against me, that barber lost $1,872 in potential haircuts over the years. Hope it was worth it.

John A. Tures, associate professor of political science, LaGrange College; jtures@lagrange.edu.

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