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Why are people discriminated against?   What causes people to discriminate against others?   Is there any way to stop this form of prejudice?  Why do some think there is nothing wrong with this type of behavior?    Is any form or type of discrimination learned or are we all hot-wired to be this way from birth?

Discrimination is the prejudicial treatment of an individual based on their actual or perceived membership in a certain group or category, “in a way that is worse than the way people are usually treated.” It involves the group’s initial reaction or interaction, influencing the individual’s actual behavior towards the group or the group leader, restricting members of one group from opportunities or privileges that are available to another group, leading to the exclusion of the individual or entities based on logical or irrational decision making.

Discriminatory traditions, policies, ideas, practices, and laws exist in many countries and institutions in every part of the world, even in ones where discrimination is generally looked down upon. In some places, controversial attempts such as quotas or affirmation have been used to benefit those believed to be current or past victims of discrimination—but have sometimes been called reverse discrimination themselves.

The term discriminate appeared in the early 17th century in the English language. It is from the Latin discriminat- ‘distinguished between’, from the verb discriminare, from discrimen discrimination-lawsuit‘distinction’, from the verb discernere. Since the American Civil War the term “discrimination” generally evolved in American English usage as an understanding of prejudicial treatment of an individual based solely on their race, later generalized as membership in a certain socially undesirable group or social category.  “Discrimination” derives from Latin, where the verb discrimire means “to separate, to distinguish, to make a distinction”.

Moral philosophers have defined discrimination as disadvantageous treatment or consideration. This is a comparative definition. An individual need not be actually harmed in order to be discriminated against. He or she just needs to be treated worse than others for some arbitrary reason. If someone decides to donate to help orphan children, but decides to donate less, say, to black children out of a racist attitude, he or she will be acting in a discriminatory way even though people he discriminates against are actually benefitted by having some money donated to them.

The United Nations stance on discrimination includes the statement: “Discriminatory behaviors take many forms, but they all involve some form of exclusion or rejection.” International bodies United Nations Human Rights Council work towards helping ending discrimination around the world.

Ageism or age discrimination is discrimination and stereotyping based on the grounds of someone’s age. It is a set of beliefs, norms, and values which used to justify discrimination and/or subordination based on someone’s age. Ageism is most often directed towards old people, or adolescents and children.

Age discrimination in hiring has been shown to exist in the United States.  It has been found that firms are more than 40% more likely to interview a young adult job applicant than an older job applicant.  This is not correct let alone fair, it should also be illegal.   Many of older workers possess more of the skills, training and experience than far more of the younger applicants that are being hired.   The younger co-workers could learn so much more from the older – properly trained and experienced co-worker.  Making them all that much more valuable.

Discrimination against people with disabilities in favor of people who are not is called ableism or disablism.  Disability discrimination, which treats non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living’, results in public and private places and services, education, and social work that are built to serve ‘standard’ people, thereby excluding those with various disabilities.   In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act mandates the provision of equality of access to both buildings and services and is paralleled by similar acts in other countries, such as the 2010 Equality Act in the UK.

Denying someone employment, or disallowing one from applying for a job, is often recognized as employment discrimination when the grounds for such an exclusion is not related to the requirements of the position, and protected characteristics may include age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, height, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, skin color, and weight.


In humans, evaluative orientation has been correlated with genes, differences in brain structure, and personality as well as with political orientation and moral theories.   However, as with sexual orientation, discrimination can pressure humans to pretend to have a different preference. This may explain why early studies of evaluative diversity (a.k.a. moral diversity) portrayed people of unprivileged orientations as “uneducated” or “mentally ill”.

Discrimination is implied also by correlations between evaluative orientation and inclusion in certain groups (e.g. liberal vs. conservative, religious groups, interest groups, etc.).   There are currently no laws prohibiting evaluative discrimination.

Diversity of language is protected and respected by most nations who value cultural diversity. However, people are sometimes subjected to different treatment because their preferred language is associated with a particular group, class or category. Commonly, the preferred language is just another attribute of separate ethnic groups.  Discrimination exists if there is prejudicial treatment against a person or a group of people who speak a particular language or dialect.

Language discrimination is suggested to be labeled linguicism.   Anti-discriminatory and inclusive efforts to accommodate persons who speak different languages or cannot have fluency in the country’s predominant or “official” language is bilingualism such as official documents in two languages, and multi-culturalism in more than two languages.

Discrimination on the basis of nationality is usually included in employment laws. It is sometimes referred to as bound together with racial discrimination, although it can be separate. It may vary from laws that stop refusals of hiring based on nationality, asking questions regarding origin, to prohibitions of firing, forced retirement, compensation and pay, etc., based on nationality.

Discrimination on the basis of nationality may show as a “level of acceptance” in a sport or work team regarding new team members and employees who differ from the nationality of the majority of team members.

Racial discrimination differentiates individuals on the basis of real and perceived racial differences and has been official government policy in several countries, such as South Africa in the apartheid era. Discriminatory policies towards ethnic minorities include the race-based discrimination of ethnic Indians and Chinese in Malaysia or discrimination of ethnic Uighurs in China.

In the United States, racial profiling of minorities by law-enforcement officials has been called racial discrimination. As early as 1866, the Civil Rights Act provided a remedy for intentional race discrimination in employment by private employers and state and local public employers.

The Civil Rights Act of 1871 applies to public employment or employment involving state action prohibiting deprivation of rights secured by the federal constitution or federal laws through action under color of law. Title VII is the principal federal statute with regard to employment discrimination prohibiting unlawful employment discrimination by public and private employers, labor organizations, training programs and employment agencies based on race or color, religion, gender, and national origin.

Title VII also prohibits retaliation against any person for opposing any practice forbidden by statute, or for making a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in a proceeding under the statute. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 expanded the damages available in Title VII cases and granted Title VII plaintiffs the right to a jury trial. Title VII also provides that race and color discrimination against every race and color is prohibited.

Within the criminal justice system in the United States, minorities are convicted and imprisoned disproportionately when compared to the majority. In 1998, nearly one out of three black men between the ages of 20-29 were in prison or jail, on probation or parole on any given day in the United States.  Native Americans make up about 2% of Canada’s population, but account for 18% of the federal prison population as of 2000.   A quarter of the people in England’s prisons are from an ethnic minority. The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that five times more black people than white people per head of population in England and Wales are imprisoned. Experts and politicians said over-representation of black men was a result of decades of racial prejudice in the criminal justice system.

Discrimination against racially mixed people: The notion that people can be split into clean categories of race has turned into an unchallenged and non-debated assumption. People of more than one race are not only overlooked by society but often misjudged and represented. The assumption that race is immutable is deeply embedded in the social and legal construction of race today. Race is something created by society, yet society let’s it determine much of our lives. People of mixed race are constantly subdued to judgment to be put in a category, this makes them easier to identify. By identifying where someone comes from, judgments can be made. Many applications and forms continue to allow only one box to be checked when it comes to race. Racially mixed people can also experience “otherness”- the feeling of not belonging to or being accepted by one group because you are part of another. For example- Not white enough to be white, not black enough to be black.

kathy kiefer

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