Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"Reverse" discrimination?

I'm pretty anal retentive when it comes to semantics, so understand that the term "reverse discrimination" is a term that really bugs me.

We have a high profile case here in Jacksonville where a group of white firefighters were passed over for promotions over the years, so they sued on the grounds of discrimination. They allege that they were denied the promotions (which wound up going to less qualified black firefighters) because of the lighter pigmentation of their skin. The Jacksonville fire chief is black.

The trial just recently concluded, and the plaintiffs won. I suspect the city will appeal, especially since the fire chief says that the jury got it wrong.

Anyway, I've heard the expression "reverse discrimination" throughout the trial. Not from the lawyers, plaintiff, or defendant, but from the media and the people they've interviewed (family members, friends, etc.). There are a couple of definitions of discrimination. One is "The ability or power to see or make fine distinctions; discernment." Harmless enough. The other is "Treatment or consideration based on class or category rather than individual merit; partiality or prejudice: racial discrimination; discrimination against foreigners." More insidious, isn't it?

We all discriminate in some way or another. We won't buy a used car if it looks too crappy. We won't date someone if we find him/her too physically unappealing for our liking. We won't marry someone who doesn't share our value system. We hire someone whom we believe to be smarter or more qualified than someone else. We don't buy certain diet drinks because of their aftertaste. We do not allow people under the age of 18 to buy cigarettes or under the age of 21 to buy alcohol (heck, that's age discrimination, but it's the law of the land). Discrimination, in and of itself, is not illegal or unethical.

In other cases, though, discrimination is illegal and/or unethical. Refusing to hire or promote someone based on the color of his/her skin is both illegal and unethical. That is exactly what happened in the Jacksonville fire fighter case.

However, discrimination is discrimination...period. There is no "reverse" discrimination. If someone doesn't get a promotion due to being black, it's illegal discrimination. If someone doesn't get a promotion due to being white, it's illegal discrimination. Exactly what is the reverse aspect of it? Technically, wouldn't reverse discrimination be the opposite of discrimination, i.e. a good thing?

So, if you use the term "reverse discrimination", please refrain. Instead, call it what it really is: discrimination.