June 14, 2013 by Vicki
Discrimination has become a powerful word in our society. Governments have written laws forbidding discrimination. Activists and Feminists seek to uproot and destroy discrimination within our society. Our media shows us pictures and videos of people who have been viciously attacked and, sometimes, killed by discrimination. We cannot help noticing the discrimination on display on the media and on the Internet. Our leaders tell us that discrimination and prejudice are crimes. I have observed, however, that many people don’t understand what the word “discrimination” actually means.
To discriminate, in and of itself, is not inherently evil. The primary definition of
discriminate is “to make or see a distinction; differentiate” (Oxford Canadian Dictionary, p.265). Understanding that one object is blue and another is green is a form of discrimination but it isn’t the dangerous kind of discrimination. The dangerous kind of discrimination is found in the secondary definition of discriminate which is to “make a distinction, especially unjustly and on the basis of race, age, sex etc. The definition for “discrimination” is even more specific. “ An act, instance, policy etc of unfavourable treatment based on prejudice, especially regarding race, age, or sex (Oxford Canadian Dictionary, p.266). The dangerous kind of discrimination, therefore, uses the act of identifying a difference to justify treating another person as less-than.
I would like to share with you a quick example to illustrate the difference between the act of discriminating and discrimination. You have two vases. One vase is blue and the other is gold. In describing the vases to your friends over the phone, you will identify one vase is blue and the other is gold to differentiate between the two vases. The dangerous kind of discrimination, however, is when you identify that one vase is blue and the other is gold and believe that the gold vase has more value simply because of its colour. Now, obviously, throwing out a blue vase is not something that is inherently problematic (except for environmental concerns). The problem, as always, arises when we start using those same judgements on people based on differences. Just like the vases in the above example, we may be different but we still have the same value.
Discrimination needs to be removed from our society; however, to discriminate by identifying differences is not a reprehensible action. We identify differences and make decisions based on those differences every day. We chose the well-lit street instead of the dark alleyway to travel through. We buy the non-chipped bowl from a value mart. Businesses request that the man who is not wearing a shirt leave the premises until fully clothed. All of these are acts of discrimination because they identify a difference and then chose a course of action based on those differences. None of these, however, are based on prejudice and none result in harm falling upon others. The man may be slightly inconvenienced but he is not harmed.
In fact, many cultural groups resist any attempts to blur their differences as a form of prejudice. To deny a person’s background, culture, or religion is to deny a person’s identity and also a cultural identity. In order to recognize these differences, we identify individuals as being from different backgrounds, cultures or religion. We share and celebrate these differences as part of the beauty of mankind’s diversity. To not recognize them is to assume that everyone is the same. I would not want to live in a world without differences, would you?
I hope this helps to clear up the confusion regarding discrimination. In today’s world, it is important to understand what these power words actually mean. I have noticed that people tend to be confused regarding discrimination and consequently, use the term incorrectly. To notice a difference is not wrong. To assume a difference means that a person is less than – that is wrong.