V. CONTINUING CONCERNS
The previous chapter in this report dealt with several especially constructive efforts which have been made by various parties in the past two and one-half years to combat discrimination and to improve intergroup relations. Only the slightest dent has been made in the wall of prejudice and discrimination, however. The struggle to achieve equality i our state is far from over, although there has been a fruitful beginning in this task during the past several years. This concluding chapter deals with some of the key problems which are still unsolved and which must be faced constructively in the future.
Some Problem Areas
"Reverse Discrimination" misconceptions Probably the biggest impediment in intergroup understanding in our society is the common misconception that civil rights legislation is designed to "prefer" minorities. For widespread prejudice ever to be lessened significantly, the general public must realize that the whole philosophy of the civil rights law is to ensure that minorities are allowed equal opportunity with everyone else. In other words, when other things are equal or similar, a final decision must not be based upon a person race, creed, color, national origin, or religion.
Consequently, the law does not say or imply that any minority must be given a job merely because he is a minority. Rather the law in essence says that a person who otherwise meets the general qualifications and standards expected of everyone else cannot be excluded because of his race, creed, color, national origin, or religion. In other words, minority status is an illegal criterion in the selection of employees.
Nor does the law say that a house or apartment must be rented to a minority family merely because of its minority status. The law does in essence say that a minority family, with good credit ratings and character references, cannot be turned away strictly because of their race, creed, color, national origin, or religion.
Nor does the law say that minorities must be served in places of public accommodations under all circumstances. However, the law does in essence say that an individual meeting the general standards of dress and conduct cannot be refused service merely because he is a member of a minority group.
A major contributing factor to these common misconceptions about the law's intent is the irresponsible practice in many places of letting a minority "get by," for example, with poor work habits and generally poor conduct or dress. That is to say, many people have the mistaken notion that they must not, under the law, reprimand or dismiss minorities because they are minorities. Nothing could be further from the truth. Persons belonging to minority groups have the same responsibilities under the law as everyone else, nothing more and nothing less.
Underutilization of the Law: The Commission is especially concerned as to whether or not members of the minority groups are fully aware of the protections of the civil rights legislation and whether they utilize these protections. Several factors could contribute to general reluctance by aggrieved minorities to assert their rights through the complaint process, including, for example:
Pressure from relatives or friends not to bother;
Submissive feeling that discrimination is a sad but inevitable way of life;
Feeling that possibly the effort of appealing to the law might not be worth the trouble;
Failure to realize that there are few or no out-of-pocket costs borne by complainants;
Failure to realize that the law protects complainants against economic and physical reprisals;
Failure to realize that confidentiality requirements in the law protect complainants (and respondents) from becoming public spectacles because of the complaint;
Reluctance or inability to post a $500 bond with housing complaints;
Failure to realize that the Iowa Civil Rights Commission can initiate complaints in housing matters in which there is sufficient public interest.
Problems in Community Relations: In the area of community relations, the Commission is especially concerned that specific attention focus on constructive efforts to foster harmony among the many segments in our diverse society. Especially disruptive to these harmonious efforts are such negative elements as the following:
Tendency of news media to overplay riots and disturbances, and to underplay constructive attempts of responsible professionals and spokesmen to help curb them;
Tendency in public opinion to stereotype Negroes as riot- prone and destructive, thus "blaming" or "indicting" local Negroes because of riots or incidents in other states;
Tendency each summer for widespread hysteria fanned by groundless rumors of planned riots in Iowa, especially at state fair time.
Problems in Education: Employers commonly claim that they do not discriminate -- it's just that no qualified minorities ever apply. Schools must become more concerned, now that the necessary steps have been taken, to ensure that the educational process effectively will equip all youngsters with the necessary skills to compete on an equal footing in our fast-changing and complex society. Some of the problem areas which must be faced include:
Well-intentioned, but negative, counseling in high schools to steer non-whites from traditionally white only positions;
Lack of proper preparation in matters of intergroup relations for teachers in urban schools with large concentrations of racial minorities;
The use of textbooks which are offensive to certain minorities:
Little attention given in schools to Negro contributions and Negro history;
Unwarranted hysteria over "busing," and other innovative programs to achieve equality of educational opportunity;
General insensitivity of school administrators and teachers to interracial and intercultural differences;
Racial imbalance in many metropolitan schools, too often leaving intact the all-white schools in fashionable residential areas;
Possibility of lower standards of quality in schools with high minority concentration;
Feeling of some minority children that they are "pushed out" of school.
Problems in Public Accommodations: Outright discrimination in matters of public accommodations appears to be of smaller magnitude than discrimination in matters of housing or
employment. However, the area of public accommodations especially lends itself to subtle discrimination, in such particulars as:
Discourteous and erratic service to minorities in restaurants;
"Innocent" errors or mixups in such services to members of minority groups as hotel reservations, orders in restaurants, and haircuts;
Placing minority employees in the back room (e.g., dishroom or kitchen) so as not to offend sensitive customers .
Problems in Housing: Housing is generally recognized as the area where outright discrimination is most rampant and widespread. Moreover, the complex area of housing lends itself to numerous situations such as the following, which help foster inadequate housing for many minority citizens:
Lax enforcement of sanitation codes in minority areas;
Fewer street lights and street signs in minority areas;
Misconception that restrictive covenants are valid and enforceable;
Unwarranted fear that property values will decline if a minority family moves in;
Failure of realtors for the most part to recognize that fair housing makes economic sense;
Inadequate attention given to the relocation problems of non-whites displaced by urban renewal.
Problems in Employment: The possibility of discrimination in matters of employment can arise at any of several stages: entry, placement, upgrading, or dismissal. A number of practices have the effect of subterfuging equal employment opportunity at the various stages of employment, including for example:
Fluctuating eligibility standards when used to screen minority applicants for jobs, apprenticeship programs, or union membership;
Tendency of companies and unions to overemphasize any one negative element in a minority applicant's otherwise favorable background;
Heavy reliance on subjective oral interviews to determine eligibility for employment, training programs, or union membership;
Possibility of associating addresses and race, as a means of stalling minority applicants who have been referred on the telephone by employment services or who have mailed written applications;
Tendency toward "tokenism," or the feeling that a company's equal employment obligations are fulfilled when it has hired one or two members of a minority group;
Unreasonable demand by companies and unions for the so- called "instant" non-white suddenly to appear, possessing dream qualifications and experience, especially in certain skilled fields where non-whites have been excluded in the past;
Tendency to place overqualified non-whites in service jobs or other menial tasks;
Placement of non-whites in conspicuous spots as "window dressing;"
Placement of non-whites in positions not requiring specific services to the public;
General business and industrial policy of tacking unreasonably high and irrelevant qualifications to a job which could effectively be handled by a lesser qualified person;
Failure of the state to set a good example, as evidenced by the recent report to the Governor that: non-white employees comprise only about 2 per cent of the total state work force; that most non-white employees of the state are in service jobs or menial tasks; and that several large state agencies have no non-white employees.
Problems of Insensitive Public Officials: In many instances, the responsibility for leadership in- fostering harmonious intergroup relations lies with public officials. Relative unresponsiveness or lack of genuine sensitivity to this responsibility manifests itself in many ways, including:
Tendency of constructive projects aimed at alleviating economic or social problems of minorities developing only after or in the face of racial disturbances or crises;
General inaction, and in some cases outright refusal, by city officials in implementing recommendations of the Cities' Task Force for Community Relations (especially the recommendation that the cities with significant nonwhite populations maintain human rights commissions with budgets, paid staffs, and enforcement powers);
Action by a few city councils in amending municipal fair- housing ordinances to include a $500 bond requirement to match the state law;
Problems of insensitivity, uncooperativeness, or ineffectiveness of some municipal human rights commissions or advisory committees;
Continuing assignment of particular policemen to nonwhite areas, who have an especially negative image in that neighborhood.
This report, while fulfilling the legislative requirement of annual reporting by the Commission, was designed as an educational tool to inform the public about a number of matters relating to the Commission and to civil rights in general. In the first chapter the attention was focused upon the structure of the Commission as a body of seven unpaid commissioners whose policy is carried out by full-time staff members.
The Commission, by law, has two major functions: compliance and affirmative action. The Commission's procedures in its compliance work, which involves investigation of alleged discriminatory practices, are spelled out in considerable detail in the Act. On the other hand, the Commission has a reasonably free hand in implementing affirmative action projects, which involve broad public educational efforts designed to advance the work of civil rights in the state.
In the second chapter it was pointed out that the Commission's chief responsibility is to investigate and resolve allegations of discriminatory practices which are prohibited by the Iowa Civil Rights Act of 1965, as amended. The Commission's jurisdiction is limited to alleged discriminatory practices -- based upon race, color, creed, national origin, or religion -- in matters of housing, employment, public accommodations, and intimidation designed to lead to discrimination in employment or places of public accommodations.
In the third chapter attention was focused upon specific ways that the Commission has elected to use its resources in conducting affirmative action. Because of budgetary constraints, only minimal attention could be devoted to the affirmative action projects during the first two years of the Commission's operation. A more realistic budget for the present biennium has made it possible for the Commission to add to its staff a research- and-education specialist, who is charged specifically with the responsibility for developing creative ways to improve intergroup relations and to make equality of opportunity more of a reality in the state.
The suggestion was made in the fourth chapter that there is a general climate for positive change in race relations and equal opportunity in the state. In this connection, this report listed a number of specific efforts by agencies, organizations, and individuals to improve intergroup relations and to combat discrimination.
Recognizing, however, that such efforts constitute only a beginning in the monumental task of eliminating discrimination and combatting prejudice, the Commission charged each of those parties with doing even better in the future. It is hoped that their example will be imitated by others in the months and years ahead. That the task of ending discrimination in Iowa is far from being completed should be evident from the enumeration in this last chapter of some of the key problem areas which hamper the development of equal opportunity and harmonious intergroup relations in the state.
The Road Ahead
In conclusion, discrimination is still prevalent in Iowa, but is lessening. Of a similar nature, intergroup relations are not harmonious, but do appear to be improving. In other words, true equality of opportunity and intergroup understanding appear to be attainable, but not in the immediate future.
Constructive leadership in matters of civil rights must come from many circles in the future. In this connection, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission is heartened by the fact that nonwhites have assumed a wide variety of positions of responsibility in many public and private areas of community life. These individuals are evidence of a growing awareness that there are qualified, professionally-trained non-whites available for employment and public service in Iowa. The performances in these positions by these representatives of various minority groups can very well have a significant impact upon the overall pace for achieving true equality in the state.