Reverse Discrimination

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"Reverse discrimination" has been defined in various and competing ways, with some definitions emphasizing adverse consequences for previously favored majority groups when roles are reversed and previously disfavored groups are given preferential and compensatory treatment.

A useful, less restrictive definition is this one: "the practice or policy of favoring, at the expense of another individual or group, individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously". This definition does not require infringement of some majority group's rights. Instead, to make a charge of reverse discrimination stick, infringement of some other, previously (un)victimized minority group's rights through preferential treatment of the now-favored minority should be sufficient.

In the United States, "affirmative action" programs and policies that have been established to address and redress past discriminatory practices have been criticized for alleged reverse racism (consistent with the definition given above).

A secondary conception of reverse racism, although less commonly an associated major issue, characterizes it as discrimination by a previously victimized racial group (majority or minority) against a previously favored or dominant group (majority or minority), e.g., against a South African white, if (s)he were to be refused service in a black-owned Johannesburg restaurant.

Many standard formulations include an embedded reference to aggrieved majority groups, which leaves vulnerable minority groups unprotected from discrimination favoring other minority groups.

To deal with reverse discrimination, it is necessary, as a prior task, to determine what shall or shall not count as instances of it. Although excessively fawning, politically correct and patronizing behavior by one group toward commonly discriminated-against other groups, when trying to prove they are not racists, may seem like some sort of "reverse racism" or "reverse discrimination", these terms are best reserved for other behaviors, policies and institutions.

The least problematic definition, i.e., one that does not weaken anyone's rights (for example, by limiting the "victim" of racial discrimination to a racial, ethnic or national majority), defines racial discrimination as "the practice or policy of favoring, at the expense of another individual or group, individuals belonging to groups known to have been discriminated against previously".

Great care must be taken to avoid jumping to the conclusion (or leaving oneself open to it) that someone has not been hired or served in a restaurant just because of his or her race. While being turned down for a job is consistent with being turned down because of race, it is not proof of it. To make a charge of racial discrimination compelling, there should also be proof or strong evidence that no other factors, e.g., skill set, previous employment or education, can account for the applicant's or customer's rejection or otherwise being refused.

Objections to "affirmative action" programs are based, in part, on the perception that they constitute reverse discrimination to the extent that preferential treatment given to minority job, school, grant, etc., applicants is unfair to other candidates of other races (gender, nationalities, religions, etc.).

Although the rationale for affirmative action is to create a more level "playing field" by tipping it in a direction opposite to the historical imbalance created by earlier discrimination, critics object that such programs constitute present punishment of the blameless for past sins of earlier generations.

One ideal contributory alternative to affirmative action is to create programs that eliminate the legacy of educational, social and economic handicaps by improving performance, rather than by selectively lowering standards for previously discrimination-disadvantaged groups, where such biased selection exists.

More difficult to deal with is the policy of favoring the previously discriminated-against candidate when essential credentials of other candidates are no better or worse. In this (theoretical) instance, when the candidates are absolutely equivalently qualified, two concepts of "fairness" clearly clash:

1. Fairness and social equity based on redressing a historical injustice
2. Fairness and social equity based on the equivalent of a "coin toss".
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