Correctionary: Reverse discrimination

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kettleI keep hearing classmates claiming to being discriminated against. It’s usually a dramatic story involving a sort of pathetic solitude in the high school cafeteria or in a Carl’s Jr. and rarely getting more than a slanted look from the table of blacks on the other side of the room. Sometimes it’s a different setting, involving a speeding ticket and a nonwhite cop. It may be an expression of indignation that Native Americans can receive scholarship money from tribes that is not available to everyone. But there’s simply no such thing as reverse discrimination.

The retort: “Well, EVERYBODY’S discriminated against.”

If everyone is discriminated against, then what use is the word? Misuse of the word is precisely why there’s misunderstanding with its meaning.

To be sure, there are instances of prejudice that can, but do not always lead to exclusion from a group. There are two words for this: intolerance and, when it reaches levels of outright hate and violence, bigotry. Bigoted attitudes are often mistaken for discrimination.

Discrimination is when a socially constructed identity is a subject of intolerance and/or bigotry. There are certainly categories in our society, such as gender, race and sexuality that are socially constructed. Most importantly, discrimination involves some form of structural violence – be it racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, or heterosexism – where the discriminated are hindered or prevented in some way from providing for themselves and their most basic needs. That is to say that getting suspicious looks from a table of
Koreans in the cafeteria and being too afraid to sit with them is not discrimination, and neither is getting slammed doors and violent threats on your LDS mission. You have alternative choices that enable you to do something about the situation.

But getting turned away by restaurants or being attacked on your way to work, and being silenced by law and having no recourse? That’s systematic intolerance that directly affects your livelihood. That’s real discrimination.

There likely aren’t many members of the majority here in Utah who have had their livelihood threatened because of bigoted attitudes and intolerance based on their race. Personally I’ve been called racial slurs, been mistreated by police, been followed to my apartment after kissing my boyfriend goodnight by people who wanted to hurt me, and experienced other prejudices. That doesn’t mean I’ve got the market cornered on human suffering or that, as a nonwhite person, I can’t be racist (or, in my own way, “hetero”-phobic). But there’s a huge difference between those things and actual discrimination, and it does mean it’s extremely disrespectful when those who are privileged in this town by virtue of their race, sexuality and religion (and sometimes wealthy upbringing) start complaining that the advantages society and mainstream culture has granted them are being somehow threatened.

So next time you feel like you’re getting weird looks from the non-white students in the cafeteria, either get up and go make friends, or get up and leave. And more importantly, unless you’ve had your well being threatened by institutional intolerance, do those who have actually experienced discrimination a favor and don’t call it “reverse discrimination.”