November 2, 2005, - 5:37 am
By Debbie Schlussel
Recently, two prominent employers announced stricter dress codes.
But America is up in arms over the new dress code for spoiled, millionaire employees of one company. Not so for the much poorer, more affected employees of the other.
Differing reactions by self-anointed civil rights leaders to new dress codes by the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the U.S. Coast Guard are revealing.
When NBA Commissioner David Stern announced a more professional dress code for his players to and from games and while sitting on the sidelines, critics were up in arms. They were quick to defend the “injured” millionaire “victims” of this “harsh” new policy requiring collared shirts and prohibiting flashy jewelry, among other things.
Civil rights activists and critics cried racism. On his radio show, Rev. Barry Lynn compared it to firing employees for being Black. The majority of NBA players are Black, and the outlawed clothing comprises their preferred urban, hip-hop look. Therefore, the policy must be racist, they insisted. Race merchants weren’t about to let the facts–the policy required White NBA players to do the same and is still more lenient than a lot of America’s professional workplaces–get in their way.
At the same time, the U.S. Coast Guard announced its own new dress code. Applicants whose tattoos cover more than 25% of an exposed limb are now turned away.
Yet, there were no whines from civil libertarians and human rights activists about the new Coast Guard policy.
Maybe it has something to do with the racial and ethnic make-up of the “victims.” Instead of mostly Black, spoiled millionaires, the Coast Guard has mostly Whites from the lower-middle and under-classes.
According to Lt. Gene Maestas, a Coast Guard public affairs officer, the Coast Guard is 79.2% White. Only 5.8% of Coast Guard enlistees and officers are Black. (7.8% are Hispanic and the rest are Asian/Pacific Islanders and other ethnic backgrounds.)
While there are no statistics available on the ethnic make-up of Americans with more than 25% of their visible limbs covered in tattoos, it’s a safe bet that most are White. Lt. Maestas says most Coast Guard applicants are White, and the applicants turned away, thus far, for too many tattoos were likely White, too.
NBA players violating their new dress code get fined amounts that are a drop in the bucket compared to their salaries and endorsement deals. They’ll still have phat jobs and fatter bank accounts. Tattoo-covered Coast Guard applicants will lose out on a job completely, if they don’t meet the appearance requirements–a low-paying job, which they can afford to lose a lot less than NBA players can afford a piddling fine. So far, 26–or 1.6% of applicants–have been rejected for too much permanent, visible “body art.”
Aren’t civil rights activists supposed to be out for the little guy, the down-trodden? Why are they so concerned about fabulously wealthy athletes, but not the relatively broke “Great Tattooed” who want to protect us in the maritime? Are civil rights leaders racist against White “rednecks”? After all, White lumpen proletariat America is now “discriminated” against with the new Coast Guard anti-tattoo policy. Isn’t it?
Reality check: It would be silly to call the Coast Guard policy racist. Just as it is silly to call a sport-coat and collared-shirt requirement for millionaires, “racist.”
But comparing the two policies is revealing–of “civil rights” activists’ double-standards for Blacks versus Whites and misplaced priorities favoring millionaires. Apparently, no threshold is too low to elicit their inappropriate cries of racism.
Employers have a right to make policies regarding the appearances of their employees. It’s not racist. It’s a matter of good business sense and the bottom line. NBA television ratings and revenue are down–a fact directly related to the hip-hop thuggery displayed by Indiana Pacer Ron Artest at an NBA game last year. David Stern had to do something to instill a modicum of dignity into his failing league.
Ditto for the Coast Guard. They don’t want to proscribe Whites. They want to keep those with visibly displeasing, deliberate body mutilation out. Respect is necessary for the Coast Guard, the military branch that has the most contact with the public. It legitimately wants its employees to look professional.
“The 1940s, party-hard sailor is not the image we’re going for,” Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Keith Alholm told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
While society has defined deviancy down, both the NBA and the Coast Guard properly resist that in workplace appearance.
“Our standards dated back to a time when tattooing was restricted to a very small portion of society,” Commander Wayne Muilenburg, chief of the Coast Guard’s Policy and Standards Division, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Clearly, times have changed. . . . with would-be applicants increasingly showing up at recruiter’s offices with tattoos . . . that ‘pushed the envelope.’ . . . We eventually reached the point where it became clear that more specific standards would have to be developed.”
The Coast Guard learned the one thing the NBA’s critics need to: Dress codes at work aren’t about civil rights. They’re about image. And image is everything.
Tags: America, Barry Lynn, chief, Coast Guard, Coast Guard anti-tattoo policy, Coast Guard public affairs, Commander, Commissioner, David Stern, Debbie Schlussel Recently, fatter bank accounts, Gene Maestas, Guard Chief Petty Officer, Keith Alholm, National Basketball Association, NBA, Not Coast Guard, OR NBA, party-hard sailor, recruiter, Rev, Ron Artest, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, U.S. Coast Guard, Wayne Muilenburg