Big Question: What is discrimination?

As a child, I was taught that discrimination is the unfair treatment of an individual because of that person’s race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or any other similar category. For example, I learned that blacks were enslaved because they were seen as inferior to whites due to their skin color. Now as a young adult living on my own, I have developed a more meaningful sense of what discrimination is: it occurs when someone is not afforded certain opportunities because of a characteristic that either that person cannot control (such as race or ethnicity), or is defining to that person (such as sexual orientation or gender). According to Bell Hooks, “as with other forms of group oppression, sexism is perpetuated by institutional and social structure; by the individuals who dominate, exploit, or oppress…” (127). Implicit in this quotation is that individuals are discriminated against because of aspects of themselves integral to their identity. Discrimination therefore forces individuals to, “behave in ways that make them act in complicity with the status quo” (127). Just as it was discriminatory to impose laws upon blacks because of their race, it is discriminatory, for example, to prohibit intersex couples from getting married because one or both of the individuals identify with a gender that does not match their anatomy (Fausto-Sterling 112-13). When society neglects to provide rights to individuals because of how they choose to identify themselves, society discriminates.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?” Sexing the Body. New York: Basic Books, 2000. 78-114. Print.

Hooks, Bell. “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity Between Women.” Feminist Review 23 (1986): 125-38. JSTOR. Web. 05 Sept. 2013. <;.


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