Commentary

When are you black enough to sue for racial discrimination?

Sergeant Cleon Brown, a respected veteran of 19 years in the Hastings police department, had been curious about his ethnic heritage:

There’s always been questions reference to my dad. He had darker skin and black curly hair. My oldest daughter was born with a medical issue and the specialist thought there was African heritage in our blood line.”

Genetic testing disclosed that Brown is of 18% African heritage. After relating the results to other officers, “They were real quiet to me and in police work, you have to communicate,” he said.

Sergeant Brown filed an Equal Employment Opportunities Commission discrimination complaint, though he contends that the situation only worsened. He found a black Santa Claus ornament with “18%” marked on it placed on a station’s Christmas tree. He also charged that the Hastings police chief called him “Kunta” after Kunta Kinte in the popular Alex Haley book and TV miniseries, “Roots.”

In Brown’s civil rights suit, he is asking for $500,000 in damages and a demand for Chief Jeff Pratt’s resignation. Brown, however, firmly maintains that the lawsuit is not about money.

“Absolutely not, from the beginning we said this was about them making a hostile work environment,” he said.

The attorney for the city of Hastings argues that Brown cannot sue for racial discrimination because he does not “appear” to be African American. This attorney’s diversionary tactics tap into societal myths that “race” represents objective, observable, and immutable biological characteristics rather than arising as socially-determined norms.

Looking back to the historical emergence of the concept of “race,” critical race theorists remind us that this concept arose concurrently with the advent of European exploration as a justification and rationale for conquest and domination of the globe beginning in the 15th century of the Common Era (CE) and reaching its apex in the early 20th century CE.

Meanwhile, geneticists tell us there is often more variability within a given so-called “race” of humans than between human “races,” and that there are no essential genetic markers linked specifically to “race.” They assert, therefore, that “race” is socially constructed — a historical, “scientific,” and biological myth. Thus, any of these socially-conceived physical “racial” markers are fictional and are not related with what is beyond or below the surface of the body.

Though biologists and social scientists have proven unequivocally that the concept of “race” is socially constructed, however, as Sefa Dei asserts, “the knowledge that race is an ideological, social/material construct does not take away the consequences when one is faced with actual racist incidents or practices.”

Sergeant Cleon Brown discovered what minority “races” have always understood: that racism is widespread in “law enforcement” agencies, and the racist railroad train travels on a regular schedule to towns and cities throughout the land.

Did Jeff Sessions just soften his stance against hate crime protections?

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