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Jury Duty is Racist

May 2, 2017

Why must there be racial and ethnic discrimination in jury duty? Recently I received a summons to serve on a jury and I was instructed to complete a questionnaire online within ten days. I dutifully went online and began the questions. But when I came to the question that asked for my race I got mad. The only possible reason for this question is that someone in the jury selection process wants to discriminate based on my race. I resent that. Besides, race is a very ambiguous and poorly defined characterization. Since I have never had a DNA test I really do not know my race. Since all of us trace our history back to Africa, and since I do know that I was born in America, the only race I can claim for sure is African American. But this question did have an “escape” because I could choose “other” so I elected that choice. I was not happy with that decision because I would have preferred to answer “unknown” or “refuse to disclose.”

An aside; I went back and checked my own birth certificate and saw that there was not a category for race but there was a category for “skin color.” Mine was listed as “white” although I think my actual color is closer to “light brown” or cream colored. I would still prefer that such a question not be asked but, at least, skin color is something that can be visually determined. (On such basis, I presume that light skinned people like Michael Jackson and Lena Horne would have also been classified as white.)

Back to the form: a few questions farther down, I was asked if I was Hispanic. Once again, I resent the fact that someone in the jury selection process wants to use my ethnicity as a discriminatory factor. That should be illegal in a country that prides itself on treating people as individuals, not as members of some racial or ethnic group. However, for this question there was not an option to answer “other” or “unknown.” I tried to submit the questionnaire without the race/ethnic answers but the computer program would not allow that. I was stuck. There was a telephone number on the form for questions so I called the number and explained that I did not want to answer questions about my race or ethnicity. The customer service person was somewhat exasperated and told me that I had to answer the questions and that I would be expected to complete a paper copy of the same questions when I showed up for jury duty.

This all makes me wonder why we can’t just treat people as individuals. I can understand why the actual choices I make in life, such as my religion or my political party, might give some indication of my prejudices but not my race or my ethnicity, two characteristics over which I have no control and which, therefore, should not be assumed to affect my decisions.

Jury duty should not be a vehicle to spread racism.

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