Discrimination is the ability to distinguish differences between people or things. When you discriminate against something, you often treat it as inferior or worse in some way.
Examples of Discrimination
Interestingly, discrimination doesn't always have to take on a negative connotation. Sure, we might discriminate against others (which is an awful thing to do). But, we might also discriminate by preferring milk chocolate over dark chocolate (a completely harmless thing to do). Let's examine several examples of discrimination to gain a better understanding of this complex topic.
Types of Discrimination
In life, there are ways to create "distinguishing differences" between nearly everything. We can discriminate between fiction and nonfiction, walks in the park and walks on the beach, or people, places, and things. Still, let's examine some of the most prevalent forms of discrimination:
- Age - Consider today's tumultuous political climate. U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (also known simply as AOC) was not taken seriously by many of her political opponents when she first entered the race. Sure, many disagreed with what she had to say (and always will). But, a lot of the pushback she experienced came from the fact that many middle-aged people thought she was "just a kid" without any worldly knowledge or useful insight.
- Appearance - If a 28-year old man with gang tattoos moved into a new building and everyone ignored him because he was (formerly) a gang member, then they'd have discriminated against him based on his physical appearance.
- Career - Have you ever had to call the plumber? Well, if an office worker ever calls a plumber to fix the public bathroom and looks down on him, treating him poorly, that would be discrimination based on career. The plumber may even be the same age as the office worker, but there's a strong likelihood his salary is just as high (if not higher) than the average office worker.
- Disability - Consider two children who enter daycare with different physical disabilities. If the teacher pays more attention to the child with cerebral palsy than the child with down syndrome, then he or she has discriminated based on type of disability.
- Gender - If a married couple walks into a dog shelter to adopt a puppy and they're met with two puppies - a male and a female - but they choose to adopt the female dog because they believe she'll be easier to train, then they've shown gender bias.
- Marital Status - If two men are being interviewed for membership at an exclusive country club and only the married man is granted access because he appears to be more stable, then that would be discrimination based on marital status.
- Motherhood - Let's say an equally qualified man and woman are up for the same position. The man is young and single; the woman is a mother of three. If the man was given the position because the hiring manager thought he might be less distracted, then that would be discrimination based on motherhood and family situation.
- Personal Association - There are two words that can spark instant rage: gun violence. Consider a young family that just joined a new church in their community. As they walk into the building, they spot an elderly couple getting out of a car with a National Rifle Association (NRA) sticker on it. If the father of the family instantly decides he doesn't like that elderly couple, and he tells his children not to talk to them, then that is discrimination based on personal association.
- Physical Features - A man walks into a restaurant and notices a woman with red hair and another woman with blond hair. He chooses to walk up to the woman with red hair and ask her out on a date. In this case, he's shown discrimination in favor of women with red hair.
- Race - A high school student of Indian descent meets two new students in math class; one is Indian and one is Spanish. The student befriends the Indian student because they share the same racial background. He made this decision based on racial discrimination.
- Religious Beliefs - Two women are up for the same job opportunity. One woman wore a veil over her hair, based on her religious beliefs, while the other simply wore her hair in a bun. If the woman with the bun got the job because the hiring manager has negative feelings about the first woman's religious beliefs, then that would be discrimination.
- Sexual Orientation - Consider a father moving his daughter into her freshman dorm room. As he's helping out, her new female roommate walks into the room and introduces her girlfriend. If the father walks out of the room in a huff and tells his daughter he doesn't want her living with that gay woman, that would be discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In 2010, the Equality Act was enacted in the United States. It's a legal framework that outlines clear, distinct laws tackling discrimination. Many of the protected characteristics are listed above, including age, disability, gender, religion, and sexual orientation.
Is Discrimination Ever Okay?
By and large, discrimination carries a negative connotation. However, it isn't entirely bad. We positively discriminate (or make distinguishing differences) between senior citizens and children when we offer discounts on their movie ticket prices.
To have "discriminating tastes" can also mean you know what you like. For example, if you prefer cheesecake over red velvet cake, that means you have discriminating tastes toward cheesecake. Certainly, there's nothing wrong with that!
What About Bias and Prejudice?
Bias, prejudice, and discrimination are all related, with slight differences. Each one has a negative connotation, but that's not entirely accurate. Bias is a tendency to lean in a certain direction. You can be biased toward a group of people or biased against Cheerios. For more on this, check out examples of bias.
Prejudice tends to get a little bit uglier. This is a feeling toward someone based solely on their affiliation with a group. Prejudice tends to take root in ignorance, as it's hard to judge someone's character simply because of one aspect of their life. To dive deeper into this facet of human nature, read through these examples of prejudice.
The best way to distinguish between prejudice and discrimination is to consider that discrimination is the product of prejudice. Prejudice is merely a feeling or thought. Discrimination, however, brings it to life through the choices we make and actions we take.
Let's focus on the positive. Sure, we see a lot of discrimination in this world based on ugly thoughts and feelings (prejudices). But, we can also discriminate in an effort to live a better life. Together, let's discriminate against the "easy way out" in life, choosing instead to work hard and achieve great things.
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