Discrimination vs. Reverse Discrimination

There has emerged an alarming trend regarding the use of the word “discrimination,” one that repeatedly misapplies this term.  Multiple laws (such as Title IX) and policies (such as affirmative action) which were designed to remedy problems resulting from discrimination have come under attack from those who claim they fail, because they are, themselves, discriminatory—in fact, they’re often seen as involving “reverse discrimination.” 

Eliminating discrimination = automatic reverse discrimination?

In other words, they claim that efforts to eliminate discrimination in and of themselves are a form of discrimination, in this case "reverse discrimination." 

Almost relishing the fact that they can hoist these laws and policies by their own petards, some opponents to them  misuse the concept of “discrimination” in their effort to remove them. 

But eliminating discrimination in and of itself hasn't been the goal:

Let’s start by acknowledge that of course these laws and policies are discriminatory.  They were never intended not to be.  In fact, there has never been a goal of removing discrimination from the social landscape.

No one has ever sought to eliminate discrimination as part of the process of advancing people in our society.  Hiring, admission to colleges and universities, salary increases, allocation of funding,  to name a few, all involve some act of discrimination, often based on the notion of "merit."  Otherwise, we just draw names out of a hat.

Eliminating biased discrimination, now that's another matter

To see what truly was and continues to be the intent in addressing discrimination, all we need do is remember that the issue is "biased discrimination."  But, for convenience, we don’t use the entire phrase.   So when we say we are trying to eliminate discrimination, we are referring solely to biased discrimination, not discrimination in general.  We are referring to that sort of discrimination that fails to do what it is supposed to do, help us make appropriate choices.

Sources of bias:

There are many ways in which the process of discrimination can be flawed and biased.  If those who are making the discrimination, refuse to take into account all relevant factors, ignore issues of merit, are biased to select on the basis of stereotypes, prejudice and personal preference, or even quotas, then the discrimination can be flawed.  It can be unfair.  And it can fail not only to provide equal opportunity but to squander human resources that can benefit society.

Want to read more about biases?  We have several pages on our web site dealing with this topic.

Equal Opportunity

That's the goal.  Efforts to eliminate biased discrimination have focused on providing equal opportunity.  And we all benefit from that, because in the end it means the most able and qualified advance.

Reverse Discrimination

Now there is a form of biased discrimination (one of those listed above) that is what people are calling "reverse discrimination," but it is NOT the automatic result of efforts to deal with biased discrimination. 

It comes from how folks try to eliminate biased discrimination.  It is the use of quotas.  In an effort to reduce, or eliminate biased discrimination, some have resorted to the strategy of using a quota--it's quick, it's simple, and it doesn't require any sophisticated assessment processes, it just says things like,: "We need a certain number of employees to be women/minority/etc."  There are those who see this as biased, reverse discrimination, and the current  Supreme court has tended to agree.

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