Three and a Half Missing Persons

At a small lamp company in Chicago, all the employees were minorities—Hispanic and black. So when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission came knocking, owner Mike Welbel handed over his records without a worry. Surely no one could accuse him of discrimination in the workplace. Was he ever wrong. With new definitions of discrimination, virtually everyone is potentially guilty. Discrimination used to mean you actually harbored prejudice against some group. But today the official meaning of discrimination is that your employees fail to reflect the exact proportions of ethnic groups in the surrounding community. All it takes to establish guilt is a calculator. Mike Welbel's lamp company employed 21 Hispanics and five blacks. But the feds decreed that, based on the area's population, he should have hired more blacks. To be precise, he should have hired 3.45 more black people. For this crass display of discrimination the EEOC harassed Mike for two years. First he was told to pay nearly $125,000 in compensation to several black people who had been turned down for jobs at the company. To locate them, the EEOC required him to buy $10,000 worth of newspaper ads. As Mike puts it, the EEOC wanted "me to spend $10,000 to find people who didn't work for me so I can pay them for not working for me." The demands were so excessive that they threatened to drive the small company into bankruptcy—in which case all the employees would have lost their jobs. Finally the EEOC settled for a smaller amount, and Mike Welbel was able to hang on to his business. But the incident left its scars. Mike now lives under a cloud of fear that some day the government might burrow into his records and find another hidden offense—another unintended act of discrimination. The irony of all this, says columnist Mike Royko, is that Mike Welbel is someone who knows all about racial discrimination. His parents were Jews who survived the concentration camp at Auschwitz. He lost several relatives to Hitler's anti-Jewish persecution. So the EEOC didn't teach Mike anything about racial discrimination. All they taught him about was fear—fear that the federal government is poised to judge even our innermost thoughts. "Sometimes I'm afraid I'm thinking the wrong thoughts," Mike says. "You're always afraid you're not doing the politically correct thing." These are words we might expect to hear from someone living in China or Bulgaria— certainly not in the U.S. But it shows what happens when you try to enforce fairness by calculator. The EEOC punches the numbers of employees into their calculators and reads out a verdict. If the numbers are against you, you stand condemned of prejudice and hate. The whole system is not only coercive but also counterproductive. The real way to overcome prejudice and hate is not by bureaucratic tyranny. Genuine character change comes from the inside out—by spiritual renewal. Galatians teaches that in Christ there is no male or female, no Jew or Greek. We all enjoy the same status as children of God—and this is the only enduring answer to prejudice. Just try telling that to the EEOC.


Chuck Colson



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