Empathy and the 11th Circuit.

Apparently, racial discrimination doesn't exist for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals:

Last month, for the third time and in the face of a 2006 rebuke from the United States Supreme Court, the federal appeals court in Atlanta said there were no racial overtones when a white supervisor called an adult black man “boy.”

“The usages were conversational,” the majority explained, repeating what it had told the trial court after the Supreme Court ruled, and “nonracial in context.” Even if “somehow construed as racial,” the unsigned 2-to-1 decision went on, “the comments were ambiguous stray remarks” that were not proof of employment discrimination.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that 11th Circuit Court is this ignorant of the well-known racial significance of the term boy as applied to African American men. Not only does the 11th Circuit Court represent parts of the Deep South -- Alabama, Georgia, and northern Florida -- but the opinion was co-written by Judges Edward Carnes and William Pryor Jr., bona fide sons of the South. Considering that the 11th Circuit Court consists mostly of Republican-appointed judges, it strains credulity to think that this is anything other than an instance of conservatives' well-documented antipathy to claims of discrimination that come from racial minorities.

More broadly, this puts further lie to the conservative claim that judges can be impartial "umpires" calling "balls and strikes" in their application of the law. The 11th Circuit Court is dominated by older white men of the South. Conservative hostility to claims of racial discrimination aside, is it really any surprise that the court failed to see the racial implications in calling an African American employee boy? Put another way, if the 11th Circuit Court reflected the demographics of the 11th Circuit -- heavily black -- would it have seen the racial content in a white supervisor's reference to a black man as boy? My guess is that it would, which only underscores the importance of diversity in the federal courts. Experience matters when it comes to deciding the law, and pretending otherwise does nothing but get in the way of justice.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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