Some phrases are simply racist. That is, some phrases indicate discriminatory bias with no need for additional inferences. But, sometimes it requires a federal court of appeals to make that clear. The blog at Above the Law discusses the case of Autry v. Ft. Bend independent School District, 2013 WL 68370 (5th Cir. 1/7/13). Mr. Autry alleged discrimination on the basis of his race, black. Judge Lynn Hughes, a Houston federal court judge, discussed some key evidence in this case.
Mr. Autry had applied for a position at Ft. Bend ISD. He was turned down. Later, he was told that one of the key decision-makers had commented about the then candidate Barack Obama, "if Obama is elected president, they’re going to have to take the Statue of Liberty and put a piece of fried chicken in his [sic] hand." Judge Hughes granted summary judgment in favor of the employer. Judge Hughes said no black individual and no black collectively owns the "sensitivity rights" to "fried chicken or anything else."
Mr. Autry’s lawyer suggested the fried chicken statement was a well-known racial slur in regard to blacks. But, Judge Hughes responded that was a surprise to Col. Sanders. As the blog explains, a statement assumes racial animus if one can substitute a different person and the statement loses its value. For example, if we substitute Bill Clinton, a known lover of fried chicken, for Mr. Obama, the statement would lose its value completely. The statement would have no meaning if it referred to Bill Clinton.
Judge Hughes missed that critical understanding completely. Some phrases convey implicit racial bias. That returns me to my post from Jan. 15 when I mentioned research shows many Americans cannot see anything but the most obvious forms of discrimination.
As Above the Law points out, Judge Hughes, a federal judge, ignores completely the racial component of the statement in this context. The Fifth Circuit rightly reproved him – even as the higher court affirmed the summary judgment on other grounds.