Discrimination – What is it?

Artwork from Amplifer Art by Ashley Lukashevsky 

We are weeks away from the 2020 presidential election. Now is the time to put your voting plan in place. If you are voting by mail fill out and return your ballot ASAP to avoid delays. If you are voting in person, make sure you know the poll hours and location. Help others too, especially new voters get their voting plans in place. VOTE!

Last week I read a social media post by a mom who felt her son had been discriminated against because of political signage at her house. I won’t go into the details because they really don’t matter. The mom wrote, shame on the other person for discriminating against her son for something he didn’t choose to participate in but had to experience disappointment because of something he couldn’t control. Others were quick to point out her son wasn’t discriminated against. Was he discriminated against, or wasn’t he? This got me to thinking how often we use the word, but do we really understand what it means.

Discrimination is a word that is thrown around a lot, and the technical definition is wide. In life we differentiate and discriminate daily. Such as when I buy produce, I’m making a value judgment on which fruit and veggies I like more than others. I’m differentiating which fruit and veggie types I like over others. I have a bias for tropical fruits, I grew up eating papaya, mangos, dragon fruit, and star fruit. If I act on this bias and constantly shun other fruits like berries and stone fruit it would be fair to say I am acting in a discriminatory way towards berries. In another example, if I only ate red vegetables but skipped green veggies consistently it would be fair to say I discriminate against green vegetables. In the example I am making a decision to group, class, or choose one group over another – tropical fruit over other fruit, red vegetables and not green ones.

While those are somewhat innocent examples if we begin to apply discriminatory principles towards people it can challenge our sense of fairness and justice. We begin to see unfair and unjust practices against people play out because of things they can’t control – like whether or not they have a disability, national origin (where a person was born), age, gender, race, sexuality, social class, etc. As an American society we’ve decided to protect religious beliefs, pregnancy status, and veteran status. Many of these protections help to temper blatant discrimination in many settings such as the workplace, housing, education, government services, etc. It still happens, but less overtly, this is where microaggressions happen, or practices that are ‘legal’ but still discriminatory.

More recently I’ve seen more conversation about people feeling discriminated against because of their political beliefs, immigrant or citizenship status, and during the current COVID19 pandemic people feeling ‘discriminated’ against for not wearing a facemask.

In some cases where a person feels discriminated against, isn’t really discrimination. It may be a redistribution of privilege, especially white privilege. White people sometimes feel discriminated against when they don’t get their way, but really it is the system trying to rebalance itself and to encourage more people that have been historically discriminated against to access the services. As an example, affirmative action allows colleges to acknowledge a person’s race in admissions processes thus giving Black/African Americans, Native American/Indigenous, Latinx, Pacific Islanders, and others with lower rates of admission to the school a better chance of getting in. There are white people (and some Asians and others) who feel this discriminates against them because it doesn’t seem “fair” someone else is getting an extra point and may hurt their chance of getting in even though it wasn’t an equal starting line to begin with.

Is it right to discriminate against a discriminator?

My lawyer friends tell me to never ask a question you can’t answer – Is it right to discriminate against someone who discriminates? I don’t know.

I know someone out there will say, no it isn’t right and we should show tolerance and work to understand their point of view. Others will say why should we work to understand others who discriminate so blatantly against others. Many pocs will say it isn’t our job to “educate,” show compassion, or work to change the view of others.

To wrap up, here is the cheat sheet version of what I’ve learned about discrimination this week from reading a bunch, and watching way too many YouTube vids on the topic:

  • Everyone discriminates – if you are alive and making choices you discriminate
  • Discrimination is a problem when people are treated unequally based on traits they cannot control – race, disability, citizenship and immigration, age, social class, etc.
  • Exclusion and rejection happen with discriminatory behaviors. The United Nations statement on discrimination says: “Discriminatory behaviors take many forms, but they all involve some form of exclusion or rejection.” (Note: I cannot find the original source document for this quote.)
  • Feelings of rejection, sadness, outsider status, etc. are byproducts of discrimination
  • Discrimination can happen to achieve gains (e.g. best food, land, popularity), to stay in a social group or class, or to protect gains.

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