Reverse Discrimination: Definition, Examples & Cases

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  • 0:02 What Is Reverse…
  • 1:49 How Does it Work?
  • 2:52 Criticism of Reverse…
  • 3:27 High Profile Reverse…
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Reverse discrimination can be a confusing and emotional topic. Through this lesson, you'll learn what defines reverse discrimination and come to understand how it works in society.

What Is Reverse Discrimination?

No matter what country or type of environment you live in, it's pretty likely that you've witnessed or experienced some kind of discrimination. Quite simply, discrimination is the act of favoring one thing or group over another. When we talk about discrimination in the context of people, the issue gets much more complicated and difficult to navigate. Discussions of discrimination in society are often emotionally charged and can involve the use of terminology that is unfamiliar or confusing, like reverse discrimination.

Reverse discrimination is a term used to describe actions or efforts that have been made to reverse the negative effects of discrimination against a particular group. The label of reverse discrimination can be quite misleading, and, depending on the perspective of the person using it, can be a significantly loaded term. From time to time you may hear the term used alongside a similarly unfamiliar idea, such as reverse racism, which probably just makes things even more confusing instead of clearing them up. Reverse discrimination isn't intended to describe a role reversal between oppressors and oppressed, but is simply a term used to describe the various actions that have been taken to level the playing field by giving historically marginalized groups a fair opportunity.

The following sentence is an appropriate use of the term, and should clearly define its meaning:

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed in an effort to increase equality in American society, which makes it a groundbreaking example of reverse discrimination.

In this sentence, the term reverse discrimination is used appropriately because it refers to an action that was taken to reverse the effects of discrimination.

How Does It Work?

The most obvious example of an act of reverse discrimination would be the Affirmative Action programs that are common in many Western countries. Because racial, ethnic, or gender discrimination had become so common during the 20th century, institutions like schools implemented programs that would ensure minorities were given an opportunity to participate without being denied because of physical characteristics or stereotypes.

Another example of reverse discrimination in practice would be the Fair Housing Act, which was included in an amendment to the Civil Rights Act passed by the U.S. Congress in 1968. The Fair Housing Act was intended to protect renters or buyers from being discriminated against when seeking housing in the United States. For example, prior to the passage of the act, it was entirely legal for a landlord to refuse to rent to an African American couple based on the color of their skin. With the Fair Housing Act in place, it's now against the law for anyone to be refused housing because of their race, gender, religion, or national origin.

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