What Does “discrimination” Mean?

David Goehring/CC-BY 2.0

Discrimination is the act of treating a person differently — negatively or positively — because of that person’s race, class, sexual orientation or gender or any other group to which that person belongs, rather than assessing individual needs and merits.

Small-scale discrimination can involve a student being bullied at school or shunned by fellow students, and it can be controlled or deterred through certain rules or guidelines. Large-scale discrimination is more likely to be regulated by federal or state law. For example, during the period of segregation in the United States, it was legal to force African Americans to use separate facilities from white Americans. This discriminated against African Americans and prevented them from attaining the same status as other citizens.