Many people today equate the word discrimination with a wrongful act. To them, to be “discriminated against” is to be a victim of illegal behavior.
The very word itself conjures up a presumption of guilt. Discrimination has indeed become a dirty word.
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For example, a recent column featured disgruntled non-employees complaining that they were discriminated against, and not hired, because of their neck tattoos. That is evidence that we, as a society, don’t understand the law. People are surprised to find that the vast majority of discrimination is not only legal, but perfectly acceptable — even expected.
Only a few forms of discrimination are actually illegal. Differential treatment based upon race, color, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, ethnic or national origin, disability, veteran status, gender identity (recently), or any other protected status that also affects the terms or conditions of employment or education, constitute unlawful discrimination.
Otherwise, absent any exception or contract, it’s perfectly legal to hire and fire anyone for any reason — even a bad reason.
The reality is: we discriminate all day, every day. We discriminate when we don’t hire the guy who showed up to the firm interview in the Led Zeppelin t-shirt. We discriminate based upon looks when we choose a mate. (Some discriminate less than others, especially when they drink.)
Is a guy walking down a dark street toward you with a bloody machete? You’re not going waste a lot of time thinking about his socioeconomic background or the racial makeup of his mother-in-law. You’re going to discriminate and cross to the other side of the street.
Discrimination is part of how we survive and how we make good decisions in life and business.
Unfortunately, by turning “discrimination” into a profane word, we’ve confused an entire generation, who now think that because they were canned for showing up drunk to work at the bank in flip-flops and cargo shorts, they’ve somehow been legally wronged.
We should stop being afraid of a word and be honest about the fact that we all discriminate. For example, here is one group I actively discriminate against and you should too — after all, it’s perfectly legal:
Only Children: Why single out people who already have no siblings? I don’t trust them. They are too confident, happy, and the product of institutionalized selfishness. As one of my mom’s litter of 11 (or so) children, Christmastime was more like when UNICEF backs up a flatbed truck into an impoverished nation and tosses sacks of rice into a crowd. In my case, that crowd was an angry mob of siblings. I couldn’t imagine the joy of an Only Child: coming down the steps on Christmas morn and knowing the entire panorama of presents was all yours! Only-Children have never had to share. They have never had to compete for the remote control, or for the last slice of pizza. Only-Children have never known a life of noogies, or wedgies, or wet-willies. Their parents talked to them like a “person,” and not like “inventory”. Because Only-Children are raised to believe they are unique and destined for greatness, they often go on to become captains of industry. In the meantime, those of us with siblings end up with such low self-esteem, we’re lucky if we string together enough days of sobriety to graduate middle school. If you’re going to be bigoted, Only-Children are a safe bet. They are too busy on their yachts to care, anyway.
Ultimately, discrimination based on race or other protected classes is not only illegal, it’s illogical and bad business. Fortunately, that kind of unlawful discrimination is the true minority. The infinite other kinds are an integral part of life. Let’s raise our understanding of the word, and stop discrimination against, well, “discrimination.”