Discrimination Is Funny

Early in my Wall Street career I was rejected as a applicant for a trading job at a premier money management firm because I am a Jew. The firm’s managing partner was a reasonably smart and affable US born gentleman who was proud of his German roots. While we met for interviews many times, got along along very well and clearly I was the best candidate for the job (the person ultimately hired was not particularly talented and didn’t last long at the job), he was uncomfortable with Jews based on his family’s lore. This was clear based on his social club memberships, that he had no Jews on staff and that as a member of the board of directors and employee of a Wall Street brokerage firm he was the sole vote opposing the merger of the brokerage firm with a Jewish-owned commodity trading firm which resulted in the commodity firm become the largest stockholder of the brokerage firm. That is, that he would henceforth be working for Jews.

Ultimately, rejected from this plum job, I took a job at a third tier firm. While opportunity lost and rejection on the grounds of religious heritage might have provoked anger or dismay in others in like circumstances, I thought it was funny.

I loved this managing director (as I do everyone) but viewed him as struggling with a mental handicap that limited his ability to make choices that would be in his best self-interest. His mental handicap is “labeling,” the generic form of discrimination.

Labeling, like broad generalizations and categorizations, seems to make us comfortable, thinking we understand individual things; but, ultimately, labeling reveals we know nothing about the individual things we label. When someone knows nothing but thinks otherwise, that’s funny. It’s funny that his ignorance was my bliss and, in hindsight, the story of the experience is better than would have been the job.