It is well on the way to being a ‘catch-all’ term for attitudes as widely varied as bias, favouritism, injustice, intolerance, partisanship, prejudice, unfairness. More particularly it is used in situations of ableism, ageism, anti-Semitism, chauvinism, classism, heterosexism, racism, sexism; the list goes on. With so very many different terms hiding under the umbrella of discrimination I found just one that encapsulates the opposite. Impartiality. Why?
|A look at the etymology of the word may help to explain.|
|Latin root: ‘discriminare’ meaning to divide or separate, from ‘discernere’ to distinguish between (discern, discreet), and even concern, certain, and secret|
|1640s onwards: used in the sense of making distinctions or observing differences|
|1814 onwards: also used in the sense of being discerning|
|1866 American Reconstruction Acts: used specifically to refer to prejudicial distinctions against a group of people based on race, colour, or servitude|
|A neutral root, through neutral meanings, the word took on a very specific and divisive usage|
USA Reconstruction, 1866-70
Following the American Civil War a series of Reconstruction Acts were passed as a mean to reunite the Northern and Southern States:
1867 Reconstruction Act: set down how the southern states were to re-join the Union. The original wording included “there shall be no discrimination in civil rights or immunities among the inhabitants of any State or Territory of the United States on account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.” Many argued for this clause to be deleted, fearing “civil rights” may be misinterpreted. In April 1866 Congress overrode President Andrew Johnson’s veto.
1868, The Fourteenth Amendment widened the definition of national citizenship in the Constitution by granting “equal protection” to former slaves; the southern states had to ratify the Amendment as a condition of re-joining the Union.
1870, The Fifteenth Amendment guaranteed all citizens (male, and over 21 years) the right to vote, and that no right to vote would be denied “on account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude.”
Objecting to these radical changes white supremacist organisations targeted anyone who questioned white authority, often with violence; blatant racism remained in both the South and the North of the country. For the next hundred years this attitude was the norm, the revolutionary protection of the rights of all peoples enshrined in the Reconstruction Acts no more than marks on the page. Not until the 1960s did African Americans, through the civil rights movement, fight for the freedoms and equal status they had been assured.
What was happening across the Pond?
Anti-discrimination legislation, such as the 1976 Race Relations Act and the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act, were replaced by The Equality Act of October 2010. This set out to protect the Types and Characteristics of Discrimination.
Marriage & Civil Partnership
Pregnancy & Maternity
Religion or Belief
Types of discrimination:
Direct discrimination – someone with a protected characteristic is treated less favourably than another person
Associative discrimination – direct discrimination due to association with someone who possesses a protected characteristic
Discrimination by perception – direct discrimination against someone because others think that they possess a protected characteristic, even though they may not
Indirect discrimination – this can occur when you have a rule or policy that applies to everyone but disadvantages a person with a particular protected characteristic
Harassment – this is behaviour that is deemed offensive by the recipient. Employees can now complain of the behaviour they find offensive even if not directed at them.
Victimisation – this occurs when someone is treated badly because they have made or supported a complaint or grievance under this legislation.
Is there a way forward amidst all the jargon?
Words should be the means for clarification. But sometimes they get in the way.
Classification should tease out the nuances. But sometimes it jumbles the constructs.
Too many situations will not fit neatly into a box, eluding the precise definitions and classifications that are supposed to offer protection. Within my own experience I have found myself on the wrong side of discrimination for which there was no recourse.
Age: I have been fobbed off with “well, you have to expect that (hypertension) at your age” when attending A&E for acute heart palpitations; fortunately I have a great GP who subsequently treated me for extreme stress, and not the high blood pressure that I was told I should ‘expect’; a few months later I had an angiogram and the Consultant told me that my arteries were problem-free and that I should come off all medication for BP and cholesterol
Disability: sensory issues, long-term mental health conditions, and autism are all invisible illnesses/disabilities; however you label it, the manner in which I choreograph my path through the world is mostly unseen and not understood; when the mask cracks to reveal a meltdown or shutdown I become ‘weird’ or ‘attention-seeking’
Race: born in London to English parents with early years lived in Essex, I am English by parentage, location, and in speech
when my family moved to Australia I became an immigrant, ‘a dirty Pom’, and learned to turn a deaf ear to slights, and jokes aimed at my country of birth; I was even told by a teacher that I would never be able to speak ‘correctly’ as my pronunciation was ‘too English’
now I live in Wales and, once again, I need to be seen to fit in; many people do not like the English and some don’t mind letting it be known
I can see, and appreciate, what lies behind these entrenched attitudes: the English did conquer, ransack resources, bespoil land, subjugate people, and supplant language and customs. But that wasn’t me, nor my parents, nor my grandparents. In truth, my father’s family came from Ireland and my mother has distant Scots blood. I’m a hybrid at the very least.
I have been subjected to discrimination that was direct and indirect, and been harassed because of my differences. I have been discriminated against at school, at college, at work, and even within the mental health system.
To return to my original question. Why is ‘impartiality’ the only antonym for discrimination?
Basically, it is because the meaning of the antonym has not grown with the complex diversification of its opposite. And so the antonyms of racist, sexist, ableist, etc are: not racist, not sexist, not ableist, and so on. Perhaps this needs to change too in order that power is given to the positive side of the coin.
Until the language changes, until the parameters of discrimination are redefined, there will never be a solution. If you have enjoyed reading my thoughts on this matter please like and share. I’d also appreciate it if you shared your thoughts on the issues, and helped open up the conversation.
Thank you for reading.
Take care and stay well.