In the Face of Discrimination

At a conference last month, I heard Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii speak. Sen. Inouye is the most senior member of the Senate and the President Pro-Tempore. He presides over Senate sessions in the Vice President's absence. Did you remember that the President Pro-Tempore is third in the line of succession to the presidency, after the vice president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives?

Sen. Inouye is also a World War I1 combat veteran who served with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, an all Japanese-American U.S. Army unit. The Senator was wounded in battle and was awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest award for military valor.

Did you know that during WWII, most military units were segregated? He related that in 1948 President Harry S. Truman integrated the armed forces despite opposition by his senior advisors. "Unfortunately, the sting of discrimination continues" said Inouye.

When Hawaii became a state in 1959, Sen. Inouye was elected the first Congressman from the new state, and was re-elected to a full term in 1960. In 1962, he was first elected to the U.S. Senate where he is serving his ninth consecutive term. Did you know that there was opposition to making Hawaii a state because of its population’s ethnic composition?

The Senator shared that in January 1960 he wanted to dine in the Congressional members’ dining room. His colleagues did not want to join him. The dining room was segregated. "I took part in changing that" he told us.

During the tumultuous times in the 60s, he fought to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ensuring that the initial draft was expanded to include all groups denied economic independence. Did you know that the prohibition on sex discrimination was added by as an amendment?

Did you know that the Act ended the application of "Jim Crow" laws, which had been upheld by the Supreme Court in the 1896 case Plessy v. Ferguson, where Court held that racial segregation purported to be "separate but equal" was constitutional?

Sen. Inouye reminded the HR professionals in the audience that we are the implementers. We ensure equality of treatment in the workplace. “Unfortunately, racism is alive and doing rather well at the moment” he noted. We all have the responsibility to challenge prejudice in any form, be it age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, poverty, immigration. Challenging prejudice will give us a greater return in our collective investment – our nation's human resources and our workplaces human capital!

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