Friday, July 11, 2008

An unconvincing 'mallrat'-ionale?

Once again, to underscore how selective we can be in deciding whom we discriminate against: A major shopping venue in my region, Delaware's Christiana Mall, has decreed that henceforth, after 5 p.m., shoppers under 18 no longer will be welcome unless accompanied by parents or other adults. The rationale is simple: Teens cause trouble. They're loud, they're obnoxious, they start fights. They drink illegally, then come into the mall and curse and carouse, or cruise the parking lot with their 500-watt stereos blaring profane hip-hop. Even when they're not wreaking havoc, these swarms of so-called mallrats indulge in embarrassing PDA sessions with their BFs/GFs. So the mall is drawing a line in the marble. This is actually part of a trend. In fact, there are malls that have banned teenagers, period, after certain hours. And, of course, there are many downtown areas (and some entire cities) that have established curfews for underage citizens. In such cases, the message to teens is blunt and unflinching: You're either home by a certain hour or we arrest you.

As targets of discrimination, you see, teenagers are "safe." They can't vote until they're almost done being teens, and they're often apolitical anyway; it's hard to be too political when you're constantly texting Heather to, like, find out who Josh hooked up with last night*. We don't see teens as a legitimate constituency. Basically, everyone past the age of 20 thinks of teenagers as airheads whose rights aren't worthy of consideration. So when a mall steps forward and announces a policy like the one described above, we don't force the mall to justify its actions. We don't demand proof that teens, by and large, are unruly. We know how we feel about teens, and that's good enough for us. Therefore, even though the mall may be curtailing the freedom of all teens based on the transgressions of a relative few, we nod and say, "Yeah, that makes sense. And it's about damn time, too!"

But suppose we replace the word "teens" with the word "Hispanics" (or even, say, "Hispanic teens"). Suppose mall management had asked its security people for an assessment of who was causing the most trouble, and the security people replied, "That's easy: It's the Latinos." Regardless of whether the security team's perceptions were valid—let's say there were stats showing that Hispanics had accounted for 78 percent of all crimes committed in the mall during the past five years—would a mall be permitted to enact a policy that banned Hispanics only (or even "just" Hispanic teens) from the premises? If a mall tried to do that, would the media report the event uncritically, as my local ABC affiliate reported Christiana's decision vis-a-vis teens as a class? Or would the reporting sound a distinct note of outrage and indignation?

For the benefit of those who periodically accuse me of being a closet bigot: I'm not suggesting that malls ban Hispanics. Nor is this my "clever" way of saying that if malls really want to get rid of the problem, they should ban Hispanic teens specifically, not all teens. I'm saying that there are some forms of bias that we're allowed to have based merely on general impressions—e.g. that teens are a pain in the ass—while there are other forms of bias that we're not even permitted to contemplate, regardless of whether we have hard data to back up those impressions. In much the same vein, we are permitted to have (and espouse) positive bias rooted in nothing more than anecdotal inference—"women excel at teamwork"—but not negative bias rooted in anecdotal inference—"women make lousy bosses." We wouldn't be allowed to say that last one even if we had reams of statistical data supporting it.

For the 153rd time, I ask: Will someone explain this to me?

* and in making that remark, I hereby show evidence of my own biases.


Mike Cane said...

>>Will someone explain this to me?

Well no.

It's a secret. In fact, it's The Secret! And you thought that book was about getting free stuff. Ha!

But seriously, if you try to engage in nothing but strictly digital thinking -- 0 *or* 1, never some of each -- you'll go nuts. Or start reading -- and *liking* -- Ayn Rand.

Cal said...

This reminds me of the comment you made about the grouping of intelligence by ethnicity. There was an article in the local paper about a well-known science and technology high school that kids have to take an exam to get into. The region that the school draws from has about 10% Asian, but the incoming freshman class will be 45% Asian. And some of the kids have only been in the U.S. for a few years. But there is some whispering that the school may need to place a limit on the amount of any one ethnic group for the benefit of others.

By the way, I am familiar with the mall mentioned. I'm curious that in this economic climate that the stores would agree to lose the potential sales from the teeny-boppers. And five o'clock sounds awfully early to start this. I find it hard to believe that this rule won't be suspended for the holidays.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal, there are retailers within the mall who have sided with the kids--or at least voiced the marketing-based concerns you raised here. These kids are going to grow up someday (soon), and people have lots of choices nowadays for spending their retail dollar. Some of the retailers worry that the mall will be making "enemies for life."

Mike Cane said...

And of course, the kids can tell them to go to hell and shop via the Internet too.

Anonymous said...

i agree that "kids" as you call them as the forgotten citizens, not that i'm a kid anymore but where do adults get the idea that their feelings and interests dont matter? but you notice how suddenly when election time comes obama and the rest go out of their way to court the youth vote. if they want the youth vote maybe they should stop treating teens like second class citizens. just a thought.

sassy sasha

Citizen Deux said...

I will explain.

It is simple, really. Because they can. The law has decreed that the rights enjoyed by those under the age of majority are few.

However, they are also entitled to a host of protections not afforded the general population.

Thus the mall is legally allowed to restrict their access. Note that they have not stated that no underage individuals are allowed - simply no unaccompanied individuals.

For good examples - think about voting, driving, drinking, working, serving in the military and seeing R rated movies.

We, as a society, believe that regulating the lives of minors is socially beneficial. At some time in the future, we may afford full rights at a younger age - but not now. The Hispanic comparison is incompatible in your argument.

Steve Salerno said...

CD, I understand, of course, the rationale the mall uses; I'm simply saying that in terms of discriminating against a certain identified bloc of people, it is no different from discriminating against Hispanics, blacks, women, or senior citizens, for that matter. In fact, I think there's an interesting parallel to be made here. It is clear that, beyond a certain age, people may become dangerous behind the wheel of a car. And yet society doesn't simply say, "If you're over age 75, you can't drive anymore." No; we handle it on a case-by-case basis. But in the case of the teens, we don't merely try to single out the trouble-makers; we ban all teens. Is that fair? No matter how you feel about it, how can you not see it as discriminatory?

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve, of course the mall's actions are discriminatory, but they're based in simple fact: teenagers are collectively (and for the most part, individually) a pain in the ass. It's their job.

I was a pain in the ass as a teen (no comments from you, Connie), and you probably were, too. Since the law allows us to regulate the activities of minors, it's not a stretch to deny them unfettered access to commercial enterprises. We do it all the time, in bars, casinos, "gentlemen's clubs," and the like.

It follows that any restrictions placed upon teenagers elicit their resentment, but for all practical purposes, that resentment dissipates as the hormone levels stabilize. My own kids hated me for awhile because I set and enforced boundaries, but that hatred passed long ago. As long as we adults are reasonable in setting those boundaries and don't use our "power" to belittle the kids, the long-term backlash won't materialize, except perhaps in those few kids who are determined not to grow up.

We had an interesting situation in Galveston for a few years. A black fraternity staged an annual party on the island, which grew to the point where tens of thousands attended. Merchants, who had expected a boon, were shocked that the number of actual customers were almost outnumbered by the number of shoplifters, looters, and destructive hell-raisers. Knowing that any attempt to keep the troublemakers out of their establishments would result in their being dubbed racists - not to mention being sued by the Jesse/Al/Quannel X crowd - they decided to close their shops during that weekend. There was, of course, widespread whining and complaining by the attendees. The next year, the shops remained closed, and attendance plummeted. In subsequent years, attendance remained low, and as it turns out, it was the troublemakers who stayed away. This last year, the event was much smaller, the merchants stayed open, and everybody was happy.

Bottom line is that if you take away the opportunity to misbehave, the only ones who will actually abandon you are the ones you didn't want around, anyway. Funny how reality can trump political correctness when given the chance to do so. :-)

Steve Salerno said...

Rev et al, but I guess what's got me going here--what I just can't get my mind around--is, to put it in question form: What allows us to be so arbitrary in making some of these distinctions and yet at the same time allows us to feel so damned comfortable in our arbitrariness?

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps we're getting tired of not being allowed to state our likes and dislikes (not that I've personally struggled with the situation much). If a significant percentage of a demographic group exhibit undesirable behavior, an individual (or a business) should have the right to avoid dealings with the group mas a whole if they so choose.

Perhaps if the more responsible members of the group refused to tolerate the behavior of the bad apples, the incentive to behave badly would be removed, and the abhorrent behavior would diminish. So long as bad behavior is rewarded - especially by peers - it will continue.

As to your (and my own, I must admit) arbitrary nature, it's an inherent element in curmudgeon-ness! :-)

Cal said...

Isn't that what life is basically about -- double standards? Most people can compartmentalize so much of our beliefs and behaviors.

I think of how a sexually promiscuous man is "the man" while a woman with the same behavior is a slut or whore. (Although things have changed a lot over the past 50 years.) What's the real difference in their behavior other than gender?

I think it's probably some evolutionary reason for your original question. Someone like Michael Shermer or a behavioral psychologist would probably be able to explain it. Maybe we are all born with some inherited biases that are arbitrary.