The devil’s advocate: Discrimination is good
|February 29, 2012||Posted by James Harle under lifestyle|
Discrimination is certainly a word which has undergone a pejorative process in recent years. But what most people don’t realize is that, in literal terms, to call someone discriminating is positive, as in “a person of discriminating tastes.” The ability to discriminate between different things is important – vital, in fact – and someone who does not have it would be hugely disadvantaged. This does not simply apply to the literal meaning of the term, however; discrimination based on race, gender, ethnic origin, religion and sexuality is no less vital.
The reason it’s necessary is because people with different characteristics, whatever they are, will always be received differently on some level. It is unavoidable – necessary in the philosophical sense. It is unreasonable to expect someone to act in exactly the same way when they encounter a black person as they do when they encounter a white person, because the two races have different historical contexts. They are therefore different, and a thoughtful human being will think of them differently. That’s not just likely, it’s unavoidable, and there is no reason why we should see it as a bad thing, or try to pretend as though we don’t do it.
It’s not only necessary, but good to discriminate. If you can accurately identify a Catholic from their mannerisms, so much the better. It’s our response to people once we have discriminated between them that is a problem. To react sensitively to the religious needs of a Catholic would be a positive thing, despite the fact that identifying their religion involves discrimination. Equally, to deny them a job on the basis of their religion would be a negative thing to do, but one which has no bearing on the process of discrimination which precipitated it.
The move to make discrimination a dirty word implies that the general populace should cease to see any difference between people of different ethnicities, religions and genders. That is not possible, because people will always identify those differences wherever they are apparent. Because an action is defined partly by its motive, this also precludes the possibility of treating different groups in exactly the same way; when one thinks differently about an action, even if the physical or practical aspect of the action is identical, the action overall is different.
Imagine if we ceased to discriminate between Jews and Muslims. Who would that benefit? Neither group would appreciate it, and both would probably be offended by the implication that they had no identity as distinct from the other. Jews and Muslims have different practices, too, and kosher food would have to be considered the same as halal food, leading to problems for both groups. Without discrimination, religious terms – or ethnic, or racial, or sexual, or gendered terms – would have absolutely no meaning. No one wants that.
So, to return to the literary slant of the opening paragraph, it’s clear that what has happened to this word is a misleading and detrimental shift in meaning. It’s synecdochial; discrimination as a word has come to represent the possible negative actions which might follow discrimination. It’s inaccurate, inarticulate, and pursuing this meaning is of no help to anyone. It’s time we reinstated discrimination, and started celebrating it rather than avoiding it.