Why Should We Talk About Discrimination?

Shailja Kanwar


The aim of this article is to enable critical thinking regarding discrimination and gender

inequality. This is for two main reasons. First, to address discrimination (which is one of the

reasons that causes gender inequality) one needs to understand what is discrimination? And why is it ‘bad’? Second, if we intend to find solutions to current world issues we must understand what the problem is. To address this the article is going to first describe what discrimination is? Then it will discuss the reasons of why discrimination is bad? This will be followed by: What has been done so far to address discrimination in the EU?


Discrimination can be described as “treating people differently from other based primarily on membership of a social group” (Whitley, 2016, p. 16). Although, generally the word discrimination has a negative connotation attached to it, discrimination can also be positive. This means that people are treated more positively due to their membership of a particular social group (Whitley, 2016, p. 16). For example; schools and universities giving higher priority to those children whose parents are alumni (Whitley, 2016, p. 16).


There are many reasons why discrimination is bad. A few of the most important ones are: First, discrimination is ‘bad’ because it undermines equality of opportunity. Segall 2012, in her research tried to find out was was so bad about discrimination. She tries to find the ‘necessary’ condition of discrimination and not a ‘sufficient’ one per se (Segall, 2012, p. 83). Moreover, she takes a bottom-up approach to find out why it is ‘bad’. Interestingly, however she uses ‘equality of opportunity’, ‘fairness’, and ‘distributive justice’ interchangeably knowing that they are three different concepts by definition. Nevertheless, she concludes that first, discrimination is bad as it “corrupts the moral character of the discriminator” (Segall, 2012, p.84). For the sake of clarification a discriminator is a person who discriminates the discriminatee (the person being discriminated). Second, “discrimination is bad because it deprives society of the benefit of having a workforce made up of the best qualified” people (Segall, 2012, p.85). Third, it portrays a false impression of the discriminatee. For instance; undermining the capabilities of the victim due to biases against them”. Fourth, discrimination leads to inefficiency within social systems as it hinders organizations from getting the most benefit of human capital. This makes people hire those that fit the criteria developed around mental bias and not those that are the most suitable for the job (Segall, 2012, p87).


A lot has been done against discrimination at workplaces. For instance; the establishment of formal rules and regulations against blatant discrimination, but sadly it is not enough. The

concept “discrimination” can take different forms. For instance; structural discrimination, blatant discrimination and silent discrimination. Rules, regulations and policies are a good approach to address structural discrimination, but are insufficient when it come to silent discrimination that takes place in workplace and societies in general.


Cihangir 2008, states that subtle discrimination leads to individuals doubting their own ability and merits because subtle discrimination is more ambiguous. For example, becoming a target of the ‘failure’ of the team and discriminators making the victim feel like it is their fault. In reality the failure of the team is due to external factors, bad luck and incompetence of the other team members that are causing discrimination (Cihangir, 2008, p.12).


There have been some primary steps taken by the EU to address blatant discrimination. The EU Anti-Discriminatory Policy of the EU states that discrimination is an everyday problem for millions of people living in the European Union (EU, 2019). This is not surprising as the European Union has been involved in combating discrimination since the mid-1980s. It was in 1997 that the EU's commitment towards fighting discrimination became even stronger. This Anti-Discriminatory Policy mainly focuses on the racial discrimination and the discrimination against women (EU, 2019).


However, male and female are not the only genders that exist. Moreover, discrimination is not only limited to ethnicity and women. Discriminatory practices also take place against those that do not identify themselves as either male or female. Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Similarly, Article 19 of the treaty on ‘the Functioning of the European Union’ allows to take actions against this type of Discrimination (EU, 2019).


As one can see blatant discrimination has indeed been addressed by the EU through its policies, but what about subtle discrimination? How can we address it? The next article in this series will be addressing these questions? Because discrimination is a very broad issue which involves ample other concepts I will be mainly focusing on the subtle discrimination at workplace.

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