Recognizing Discrimination

In British English, the word “discrimination” is often perceived as an admirable characteristic as it indicates notable perception and insight. In American English, however, the word’s meaning is drastically different; the dictionary defines it as the “treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group , class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.”

This latter meaning is commonly used when one refers to employment discrimination. In America, labor laws expressly prohibit the denial of one’s job application or the firing of an individual based on their race, age, gender, religion, height, weight, nationality, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity.  Although the exact punishment largely varies per state, violation of these laws frequently leads to excessive fines and/or vulnerability to the consequences of a hate crime.

The American English definition began evolving roughly at the time of the American Civil War. While it was formerly directed largely towards blacks, the meaning gradually widened in scope and eventually encompassed all forms of prejudice stated in American labor laws.