Thursday, August 25, 2016

The D-Word: On Discrimination

I was recently reminded once again that "discrimination" is a powerful word.  I recently joined an over-forty soccer league and we had our first game recently. From my perspective, the referee was calling most of the fouls against our team and in favor of the other team.  After yet another call that went against our team, which resulted in a booking of one of our players, I ran to the referee and shouted "this is discrimination."

The accusation of discrimination upset both the referee and some of the players on the other team.   The referee proceeded to tell me that his father was black and a couple of the players on the other team, who were Latino claimed that the charge of discrimination was absurd because they were non-white.  Words were exchanged.

As it turns out, I was not accusing the referee of racial discrimination, that would have been a non-sensical accusation. Both teams (my team and the opposing team) were predominantly white.  The people of color on my team included two Latinos who could be visually identified as such, two players of Asian descent, and myself.  The people of color on the other team included at least three Latino players but at least two could phenotypically pass as Anglos.  The foul that resulted in a yellow card was called against one of my white teammates.  The referee appeared to me to be Latino and his seemed limited.

I was not accusing him of racial discrimination or of discriminating against me.  I was accusing him of favoring the other team and discriminating against my team. My accusation was not about skin color but shirt color.

But it was interesting to me how an accusation of (a) discrimination (b) by a black person is not only a conversation stopper but evokes deep anger. People get angry about being accused of racial discrimination even when they are discriminating.  And of course the ability to level a charge of discrimination is an extremely powerful weapon.  This is why some have tried to reduce the power of the charge by inventing the concept of "playing the race card."

My opponents and the referee thought I was playing the race card.  I doubt that the referee and my opponents would have a similar reaction if I had used the word "bias" or "favoritism" instead of discrimination.  Moreover, my guess (and this is only a guess) is that if one of my white teammates had leveled the charge of discrimination, the referee would have laughed it off.

I wonder what we be gained and lost, if anything,  if people of color substituted phrases like "racial bias" or "racial favoritism" and the like for "racial discrimination"?  Would a change in discourse inhibit our ability to effectively describe racial discrimination and articulate it as such or would it enhance our ability to communicate with others the cost of racial bias and how it might be addressed?

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