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writing for godot

Barring Roseanne -- Even Deplorables Should Have Rights

Written by Zepp Jamieson   
Thursday, 31 May 2018 12:08

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

May 31st 2018


It’s really hard to scrape up a lot of sympathy for Roseann Barr. She has a long history of saying despicable things, and embraces conspiracy theories that seem geared toward hurting innocent people. She really is a swine.

And I’ll be the first to admit I felt a certain amount of schadenfreude when I watched the deplorables of the far right, from the President on up, who had been cheering with glee at the NFL’s decision to fine players for silent and respectful protest who now were consumed in fury at ABC’s trampling of Roseanne’s first amendment rights. Most of them didn’t even notice any inconsistency there.

In fairness, there were plenty on the left who were equally inconsistent, only in the opposite direction. A lot of people have a territorial approach to civil rights, one of the reasons those rights have been degrading in recent decades.

Back in my Usenet days, we had this one troll who used to brag that he owned a factory, and that he would, from time to time, stroll through the employee parking lot, and any vehicle displaying a bumper sticker for any candidate or cause he didn’t support would result in that employee being fired.

Now this guy was just a troll, a nobody who just liked to annoy folks, but the fact is in many parts of the country, an employer can do exactly that. Most states have “at will” employment laws, which allow a employer to dismiss an employee for no stated reason. This allows employers to fire someone for having a Bernie sticker on their car, or for being black, or gay, or speaking Spanish in the break room. It makes all those feel-good fair employment practices laws utterly useless, and leaves employers free to punish any viewpoint they don’t like.

There are a lot of jobs where someone being racist should be fired, because they are in positions where their racism can hurt people, even kill them. Teachers. Police. Firemen. Medical personnel. Politicians. That list doesn’t include entertainers such as football players or TV actors. It doesn’t include line workers with Bernie (or Trump) decals on their cars.

The dividing line should be: can this person’s assholery cause them to infringe on the right of others as part of their jobs? If it can, the employer is justified in firing them. If it doesn’t, but they are trying to involve the employer in their deplorability (“I work for Greasy Spoon restaurants and I think all gays should be castrated” on Facebook) that would be reasonable cause for termination).

Outfits that try to deny others their rights should be subject to civil suits. Nobody needs to care if the owner of Greasy Spoon Restaurants is a nasty little bigot, as long as that doesn’t translate to discrimination in the restaurants. If it does, Greasy Spoon needs to suffer grievously in court.

Roseanne Barr is just a television entertainer. Her opinions might disgust people, but they don’t deprive them of their rights. She’s just another asshole on Twitter. Her employer should not have the power to destroy her career just because she’s a jackass on her own time. Just as football players should not be fined by their employers for quietly protesting injustice. You can’t support one and not the other.

But employers should, by law, have to account for terminations. There’s a lot they need to account for that they don’t, and as a result, while Americans still have a vestige of civil rights, American workers have less rights than the lowest beggar in Calcutta, often only fractionally above that of American slaves.

Liberals love to push for legislation that protects people from discrimination but turn a blind eye to the ability of employers to discriminate pretty much at will, making the rights they fight for meaningless.

American fascists love to pretend that liberalism is leftist (at least when it suits their purposes, as in smearing a liberal though red-baiting) but the fact is they are usually two different things.

It's in the interest of liberals to fight vociferously for worker's rights, consumer rights, and curbs on banks, churches, corporations and the government. People's rights are much easier to defend when the people involved have some actual economic clout. A person without income security has no rights.

This includes not making people’s first amendment rights subject to caprice on the part of employers. You have a right to make an obnoxious fool of yourself—or make a principled stand, demonstrating dignity and courage. Both are usually in the eye of the beholder, and that beholder shouldn’t be able to make or break you for being a human. Either way, your employer should not have any say in the matter, so long as you aren’t involving them directly.

People gain by defending the rights of everyone, and remembering that having rights doesn't include stripping others of their rights. It doesn’t matter if you think Roseanne Barr is full of it, or Colin Kaepernick; either way, they shouldn’t be subject to penalization in their work by employers. What ABC and the NFL did was the equivalent of that Usenet troll, strolling through the parking lot of his imaginary factory and capriciously firing people for the crime of having opinions. Only these are real people, losing real jobs, for bullshit reasons.

Until you have power in the workplace, you don’t have rights; you barely have a life.


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+2 # Moxa 2018-05-31 22:21
I respect this point of view, but I don't agree. Roseanne Barr is not an employee in any usual sense. She is the star of a popular ABC show; in that way she represents the organization. If she tweets bigoted messages, it reflects on the moral principles of ABC, by implying that they will tolerate racism among their stars.

Typically, anti-discrimina tion legislation involves protection for race, religion, sex, and sexual orientation--th at is, protection of groups who are routinely discriminated against. Granted some recent laws designed to protect "religious" bigots so that they can discriminate legally against gay people have been passed.

But generally, bigotry is not something we believe should be protected by law, particularly if the employer sees it as an actual threat to its own well-being. In the case of a low profile employee it might be different, but with a highly visible T.V. star it is right that they take a stand against racism. Someone has to stand up or bigotry is normalized.
+2 # Kiwikid 2018-06-01 17:09
In general I agree with the article. I'm appalled that the US seems to have little in the way of employee protection - there is no way that an employer could get away with firing someone on a whim where I live. There is a lengthy and carefully constructed process that employers have to go through in order to terminate someones employment. Make mistakes in the process and employers get caned.
An anonymous cyclist being fired for flipping the bird as the presidential car passes by could not happen in New Zealand (and, I suspect, most first world countries).
It may be as Moxa says that 'Roseanne Barr is not an employee in any usual sense. She is the star of a popular ABC show: in that way she represents the organisation.' My hunch is that in NZ if it were seen this way, what she did could be an offence which justifies instant dismissal as she has brought her employer into disrepute. Though I couldn't be sure.
What bothers me more is the hundreds of others, mostly 'unknowns'who also loose their jobs because of one motor mouth. This seems to me manifestly unjust. What labour protections do they have?
+1 # Paul Bunion 2018-06-02 11:51
Kiwikid, The US is now an Exceptional Nation among rich countries, but not in a good way. We have relatively few labor protections and fewer today than we had a couple weeks ago when the president signed 3 executive orders that will probably effectively destroy Unions representing Federal government employees. There is in this country a coalition of superwealthy individuals who are bent on destroying all Unions in the US. If you are so inclined, pray for us.

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