Acceptable discrimination

Posted: September 21, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,


Prejudice is still alive and well in the workplace. What’s that? There are now specific drives to recruit ethnic minorities and disabled people? No no, I do not refer to this kind of prejudice. I am referring to the widespread labour discrimination against those members of society who choose to wear visible piercings, tattoos and/or unusual hair colours and styles.

This has been a bugbear of mine for many years and yet in a supposedly progressive society is till prevalent. Before you compose perfectly reasoned ripostes to this, let me outline my arguments.

One of the privileges of living in a First World country (ignoring certain ignorant members of the Catholic church) is that we are free to think, worship and dress as we wish. Or are we? In the most menial of public-facing jobs you will be asked to remove facial piercings and cover visible tattoos, while hair style and colour must be strictly regimented. Okay, most piercings can usually be removed then replaced after the shift, but you can’t take out and put back in dreadlocks. Or remove pink hair dye before every shift.

I’m not referring to jobs where their very definition requires a uniformed appearance: military, corporate etc. I am referring to usually menial shop and office work, as well as areas of public service.

This is NOT an argument against uniforms. These are a perfectly reasonable method of identifying and promoting the company. Nor is this an argument against cleanliness or general hygiene. This is about freedom of expression primarily, but has many deeper resonances.

Companies would not dare discriminate against someone on the basis of faith or background. This may require the wearing of a turban, or burka as the case may be (though this opens another can of worms). How is this different from choosing to wear a nose or lip ring, or wear dreadlocks? Before the inevitable arguments rain down, religion is a PERSONAL CHOICE. A person can opt out at any time, though in certain regions it would be advisable to flee the country. But in this country, a person is free to choose which religion to practice, and just as free to opt out of that faith. So these are all personal choices.

By stating immediately that a person must not look a particular way, you are immediately narrowing their employment prospects, surely a basic freedom. Is there really any basis for this dislike of difference? Again, i must emphasise that of course there is a good reason for discriminating against visible racist or explicit tattoos.

I’m certain that employers major, nay only, defence for this would be that they are catering to their customers, who may be less than accepting of the unusual. This forms the crux of my argument.

It was uncomfortably recently that the ‘No dogs, no blacks, no Irish’ signs were commonplace in certain establishments. How do you counter this kind of judgment, a judgment based on ignorant assessments derived from surface appearances; a total unwillingness to even communicate with those different from yourself? Only by being exposed to, and communicating with, these feared transgressors of societal convention, can we hope to thread understanding and cooperation between all of us.

Alternative subcultures, be they goth, emo, skater, punk or whatever else, are a permanent part of our diverse cultural landscape, as much as different ethnicities or faiths are. Rather than attempting to squeeze out this individuality, we should be encouraging it to become a part of the public-facing landscape too, for familiarity breeds understanding and acceptance, while also making these people more confident and less resentful in their employment.

A relevant article from 2006 with arguments from both sides:

and the requisite facebook group:

  1. whos says:

    What you are talking about is not discrimination, it is choice plain and simple they get tattoos and peircings to be different (non-conformant) and then complaint when a company wants people who conform to their needs. Discrimination is prejudice against something a person can’t change. Want a cause, how about discrimination against short people, which is not a choice, affects people of all walks of life and is proven to be a disadvantage in employment no matter how well they do the job.

    • Are you thus suggesting that people can not choose a faith? Or that companies should force the employee to adhere to their dress-code regardless of said faith’s requirements? Asking someone to alter their appearance against religious teachings is tantamount to requesting a lawsuit, therefore we can safely describe that as discrimination. But religion is a choice, no?
      How about if i said it greatly affected my self-esteem to permanently alter an appearance i am happy with; who i am, merely to satisfy the prejudices of potential clientele? Does that not matter? So employment should be like a boot camp? And someone far less capable and dedicated than me should be favoured because they choose to look like a drone?
      I completely agree with your case about short people, as i also fall into this category, though it hasn’t affected me personally in terms of not getting ahead. Another issue would be attractiveness, which has the biggest effect of all in the workplace.

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