Discrimination on certain grounds is now illegal in many countries - for example, in the UK it is illegal to discriminate against a person because of (a) their race, (b) gender, (c) marital status, (d) religious belief, (e) disability and a number of other factors.
However, it has been noted that in some areas a particular group is under-represented (for example, in the UK there are fewer asian people in the police than might be expected given the proportion of asians in the population in general), in many cases due to past discrimination against members of the group. When this occurs, there is a school of thought that unless this group is given specific help to progress in this area (whether in recruitment to a specific job, college or other place or status) it will never gain the critical mass and acceptance in that role, even if discrimination against the group is eradicated. For this reason, it is suggested, more effort must be made to recuit persons from that background, coach them through training, and if necessary, lower the pass mark in any final exam. These policies are generally called affirmative action.
Opponents of affirmative action argue that the effect of these policies is to discriminate against the majority (by giving a benefit to a specific minority) and therefore constitutes reverse discrimination. Critics say that it is no fairer to discriminate against the majority than it is to discriminate against the minority and that by lowering standards those from the minority who do get in are (regarded as) less able to complete it, leading to a higher drop out rate and a greater public perception that they are not up to it, thereby being an own goal to the stated aim.
Proponents of affirmative action, on the other hand, do not agree that it constitutes reverse discrimation and argue that affirmative action is the best way to correct a history of discrimination against a minority group.