Encyclopedia > Discrimination

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To discriminate means to make a distinction. There are several meanings of the word, including statistical discrimination[?], or the actions of a circuit called a discriminator[?]. This article addresses the most common meaning of the word, social discrimination.

Discrimination involves classifying people into different groups (the criteria for differentiation, e.g. sex, race, or class, determine the kind of discrimination) and according the members of each class distinct, and typically unequal, treatments, rights and obiligations.

Discrimination generally refers to treating one group of people differently - in a negative way - from another on such grounds as their race (racism), sex (sexism), religion (religious discrimination[?]), ethnic background, disability, sexual orientation, preference, or behavior, or political views. Use of the term implies that the factors on which the discrimination is based are or should be considered irrelevant. Generally, the aggrieved group is considered by the discriminator as inferior to others.

Discrimination on the basis of such grounds as subcultural preference (Punks, Hippies, Mods vs. Rockers[?]) is also common.

Discrimination spans the spectrum from mild, such as slow or unhelpful retail service, through racial and ethnic slurs, denial of jobs or housing, to hate crimes and genocide.

Many governments have attempted to control discrimination through civil rights legislation, while in other regimes discrimination has been formalized and government-supported. Examples of the latter include apartheid in South Africa, institutionalized racial segregation in the USA from the Civil War through the 1960s, the "Jewish problem" in Nazi Germany, or re-education camps in some communist countries.

Paradox of discrimination

Many people assume that when there is discrimination, one group of people is given more favorable treatment than others. This is not always the case. It is quite possible to have cases there it is not at all clear which group is given the more favorable treatment.


Your country is under attack during wartime. The war is so ferocious that 80% of the combatants are killed. A law has been passed to forcefully conscript males between 18-24 years of age into the frontline, furthermore females are forbidden to participate.

Question: Who is being discriminated against?

There are three possible answers.

Answer 1: Males are being discriminated against. They are forced to participate in the effort which will result in a high probability of death.

Answer 2: Females are being discriminated against. They are prevented from participation in the war effort to protect their homeland.

Answer 3: Both males and females are being discriminated against.

The key to the paradox is the phrase "more favorable treatment". Different people have different ideas about what constitutes "favorable treatment". To a male who does not want to die, favorable treatment means not being forced to go to the frontline. To a female that wants to defend her homeland, favorable treatment means being allowed to defend her homeland.

Therefore it is not impossible to have a situation whereby two groups of people vehemently oppose each other, both objecting to the same piece of legislation on the grounds that it "gives more favorable treatment" to the other group.

related articles

See also: anti-semitism, apartheid, civil rights movement, collectivism, equality, hate crime, homophobia, race, race riot, speciesism, white supremacy, racism

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