Politics · Social Issues

Discrimination: Misunderstood, Misused

Ah, the four letter word that’s actually 14 letters long. It’s what everyone levies when their “rights” are infringed, they feel offended, or there is anything about them that is different from the person they disagreed with the opinion of. Oh, and rarely, actual things that are violations of federal law and basic human decency.


Drawing from Dictionary.com:

1. an act or instance of discriminating, or of making a distinction.
2. treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit: racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.

3. the power of making fine distinctions; discriminating judgment:

She chose the colors with great discrimination.
A key point to notice is the difference between definitions 1 and 3 vs. 2. 1 and 3 pay attention to clear differences, often not even by acting. Definition 2 requires action on the part of the “discriminator.”
I would also reference the federal definition of unlawful discrimination, i.e., the things you can actually be punished for in a court of law, but unfortunately that’s a labyrinth of exceptions and regulations. Check out the EEOC if you want to chase down that rabbit hole.

A Common Conflation

People ironically are terrible at practicing definition 1 or 3 discrimination when it comes to the word discrimination. Definition 2 is what people constantly allege when they yell “Discrimination!” whether or not it is truly applicable.

So when someone states a fact that is based on logical discrimination, too many people scream “racist!” or “sexist!” Consider these:

  • Women are on average weaker and smaller than men
  • There are substantially more black people in the NBA than white people
  • Those who identify as homosexual are a very small fraction (3%) of the US population
  • Teenagers are less able to make well-informed decisions than adults
  • The vast majority of terrorist attacks are done by Muslims

These are facts, but if I were to post them somewhere like Facebook or Twitter, someone would accuse me of being sexist, racist, a homophobe, an ageist, or (absurdly) an islamophobe.

Some Discrimination is Good

Unlawful discrimination is a term for a reason. Not all cases of definition 2 discrimination are evil and awful.

Consider this discriminating policy, practiced across schools in the West and enshrined in law under Title IX: men and women are on separate sports teams, competing against themselves rather than against each other.

Many would say, and I agree with them, that this is common sense. Women and men are much different, and pitting them against each other in athletic contests increases the likelihood of a woman being injured, as well as disregards the clear differences between the sexes. To preserve competition that allows women to accomplish just as men do, discrimination must happen.

Aside: This is an issue the transgender rights activists have significantly muddied, by asserting gender identity is more important than basic biology. Needless to say, “trans-women” are trouncing the crud out of biological women. Or as this story shows, “trans-men” with the advantage of extra testosterone are doing the same. In non-transgender contexts this would be considered performance-enhancing drugs and grounds for disqualification.

Discrimination is Not “Hate Speech”

The biggest foul when it comes to the misunderstanding of discrimination is its subjectively-based use as a club against so-called “hate speech.”

The theory goes that certain words or phrases are so beyond the pale, that any use of them is inherently <x>ist and should be treated as outright discrimination against whoever was “ist-ed” against.

But as with anything that is subjectively-based, strictures against “the n-word” or “the c-word,” which I will frankly argue are simple cases of human decency, have rapidly expanded. Too often, simply saying something a supposed victimized minority dislikes is sufficient for the minority to scream “hate speech” and demand the other person be silenced. By the government, if necessary.

All of this ignores definition 2. Discrimination requires action. While speech has force, contending that mere speech was enough to cause discrimination is ridiculous. Especially when compared to actions.

Simply stating something that someone else doesn’t like is the nature of free speech. Calling it “hate speech”, “discrimination,” and the like and calling for censorship should be anathema in our society. And yet, that is exactly what happens far too often.


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