Today in American Mythology

Catherine Rampell of the New York Times wrote a column today drawing attention to the rising number of discrimination complaints people have filed in the US during the current recession.
"Accusations of workplace discrimination — which workers file with the [Equal Employment Opportunity C]ommission when they think they have been unfairly treated based on their race, sex or other so-called protected categories — soared to 99,922 in the year ended Sept. 30, from 93,277 in the previous year. That was an increase of 7.2 percent, and the highest level of new discrimination cases ever recorded."

Rampell is diligent in noting that these are the numbers of complaints, which is not necessarily the number of U.S. workers that have been discriminated against in the past year. She continues:
"Workers themselves argue that a poor job market has brought out the often hidden prejudicial side of employers who can afford to be especially picky in selecting employees. Women believe they are being passed over in favor of men, blacks believe whites and Hispanics are taking their jobs, and older workers say fresher faces are having better luck in the job market at the expense of their elders."

You don't say?

Well, who are we to trust, the 100,000 people in the US who have gone to the trouble of filing a discrimination complaint, or their employers? It's clearly paranoid unemployed ax-grinder says, upstanding member of society says.

In case you aren't clear about Rampell's take, she's also written a blog post:
"My hunch is that there just aren’t enough jobs, period.

The primary problem isn’t that employers are systematically excluding particular demographic groups; the problem is that they’re systematically excluding everyone."

Hunch noted.

As someone who has experienced some pretty straight-forward workplace discrimination, let me state for the record that failure to "systematically exclud[e] particular demographic groups" does not an absence of discrimination make. That's social justice 101. It's not as if the Chamber of Commerce has a secret document in the basement cabinet next to the shuffleboard court spelling out the scheme by which employers are to pay women 80 cents on the dollar, or any other flow-charted bigotry.

The lack of trust that society puts in the narratives of members of oppressed groups is one of the primary means of their continued oppression. Workplace discrimination exists in the US. I will state, as a fact, that over 100,000 US workers were victims of workplace discrimination last year. Because I have no reason to distrust the accounts of people just like me.

I've recounted my experience of being fired to friends of mine who are trans, and would you believe that some of them have been fired under almost identically suspicious circumstances? When I share horror stories from the interview circuit with other women, it usually becomes an exercise in sharing, because sooooooo many women have soooooo many experiences with discrimination on the job market. And yet, there are plenty of people in this world, people like Catherine Rampell, who refuse to believe us, because acknowledging the reality of discrimination undercuts the narrative that successful people are especially deserving of the privilege they supposedly don't have.

And if there's one thing that coming out has taught me is that I don't understand what it's like to walk in other people's shoes. I actually do have an inkling about male privilege, but I certainly don't know what it's like to not have white privilege, or to be older than 32, or to be physically disabled. But I have empathy. And ears. And eyes. And critical thinking skills. So when people who aren't just like me talk about being discriminated against, I tend to pay attention to them, and tend to believe them, because I know what it's like to be discriminated against every. fucking. day. and to have smarmy, well-off pundits dismiss central aspects of my existence with their own personal hunches.

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