Reverse discrimination

See also: Reverse racism

Reverse discrimination is discrimination against members of a dominant or majority group in favor of members of a minority or historically disadvantaged group. Groups may be defined in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, or other factors. This discrimination may seek to redress social inequalities under which minority groups have had less access to privileges enjoyed by the majority group. In such cases it is intended to remove discrimination that minority groups may already face. The label reverse discrimination may also be used to highlight the discrimination inherent in affirmative action programs. Reverse discrimination can be defined as the unequal treatment of members of the majority groups resulting from preferential policies, as in college admissions or employment, intended to remedy earlier discrimination against minorities.[1][2]

Conceptualizing affirmative action efforts as reverse discrimination began to become popular in the early- to mid-1970s, a time period that focused on underrepresentation and action policies intended to remedy the effects of past discrimination in both government and the business world.[3]:18 The concept of reverse discrimination has two different meanings. In the broadest sense, it refers to discrimination against Whites or males in any area of life, including employment and education. In a narrower sense, it refers to the specific negative impacts Whites or males may experience because of affirmative action policies. The two meanings are often conflated, which leads to confusion and misinformation.[3]:1160–1162

The law in some countries, such as the UK, draws a distinction between "equality of provision" and "equality of outcome", based on the idea that identical treatment may sometimes act to preserve inequality rather than eliminate it. Opponents of this distinction may label it as an example of reverse discrimination.

Reverse discrimination in the workplace

When members of a particular group have been barred from a particular employment, it is said that this group has received less than its fair share of employment in question and deserves to receive more by way of compensation. Thus, this group is being compensated for past lack of employment. Therefore, a group already existing in the workplace will be discriminated against, even if they’ve never been denied employment previously. If the point of reverse discrimination is to compensate a wronged group, it will hardly matter if those who are preferentially hired were not among the original victims of discrimination.[4] Moreover, the current beneficiaries of reverse discrimination are not often the same persons as those who were harmed by the original discrimination, and those who now bear the burden of reverse discrimination are seldom the same persons as those who practiced the original discrimination. Because of this, reverse discrimination is said to be both irrelevant to the aim of compensating for past injustices and unfair to those whose superior qualifications are bypassed.

It is often argued by majority groups that they are being discriminated for hiring and advancement because of affirmative action policies. However, critics of this argument often cite the "symbolic" significance of a job has to be taken into consideration as well as qualifications.[5] Many feel that basing a decision to discriminate against a group of people should not be based on symbolism but on objective, verifiable fact. Thomas Sowell said that the meaning of "qualified" has been stretched to mean "qualified to be trained," and the "available" supply includes women who no longer work (usually because of their husbands' prosperity).[6] Critics also argue that what is termed "reverse discrimination" against majority groups is, in fact, not discrimination against that group but rather positive discrimination assisting another group. In other words, rather than the employer assuming a trait or negatively discriminating against the majority, it is instead positively assisting a minority group.


European Union

In European Union law, reverse discrimination occurs where a Member State’s national law provides for worse treatment of its own citizens or domestic products than other EU citizens/goods under EU law. This can happen because of the legal principle of subsidiarity that EU law is not applicable in situations purely internal to one Member State.[7]


In India, among the limited positions for higher education in Government institutions, 50 percent seats are reserved for members of economically disadvantaged castes and classes.[8] Reserved category candidates can select a position from the Open 50 percent if he or she has good merit. This results in further reverse discrimination of Open/General/Non Reserved candidates. Further, since there are no economic criteria in classifying Reservation, poorer sections of reserved class often remain poor whereas the affluent section reap benefits for successive generations. Also, the poorer sections of Open/General Category become devoid of access to higher education for even slightly low merit on competitive exams. The difference in merit on entrance exams is often very wide between the reserved and unreserved classes. In India, the term is often used by citizens protesting against reservation and quotas.[9][10][11]

United Kingdom

UK law draws a distinction between Equality of Provision and Equality of Outcome, particularly in respect to disability rights. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the Equality Act 2010 make it clear that treating two people identically may not be sufficient to guarantee that they have been treated equally in law if the task, physical environment or service does not offer them equality of outcome. The law provides for disabled people to request the provision of 'reasonable adjustments' to ensure that they are able to access employment, services and the built environment with the same potential as non-disabled people. In November 2007, David Rosin, a former vice-president of the Royal College of Surgeons wrote in the magazine Hospital Doctor: “It is time that someone spoke up concerning the reverse discrimination with respect to merit awards” and saying that "female and ethnic minority consultants are being given preferential treatment to meet artificial quotas".[12]

United States

The number of reverse discrimination cases filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission doubled in the 1990s[13] and continue to reflect a growing percentage of all discrimination cases.[14]

In a study conducted by S. K. Camara & M. P. Orbe, they collected narratives of individuals describing situations where they were discriminated against based on their majority-group status (cases of reverse discrimination). The population sample consisted of the respondents being 30% female and 70% male. Birth era of respondents were 3% in the pre civil rights era between 1900 and 1935, and 53% during civil rights era 1938-1969, and 44% in the post civil rights era between 1970 and 1985. Approximately 9% of the respondents were Hispanic, 3% African American, 77% Caucasian, 1% Asian, 1% Native American, and 9% identified themselves as other.

Whites Men Youth Heterosexual
Racism 70
Sexism 19
Ageism 12
Homophobia 4

(Based on Table 1 of Sakile K. Camara & Mark P. Orbe[15])

Vast majority of these stories involved Whites describing discrimination based on their race = a value of 70. Men who were discriminated against based on their sex = a value of 19. Young people experience age-based discrimination = a value of 12., and heterosexuals experiencing discrimination based on their sexual orientation = a value of 4.[15]


In 1996, University of Texas had to defer the use of racial preferences in their college admissions after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit barred the school from considering race in admitting students. The ruling determined that diversity in education could not justify making race-based distinctions. Hopwood v. Texas was a lawsuit brought by four white applications to the Texas Law School, who were denied admission even though their grade point averages were greater than minority applications that were accepted. The four white students also had a greater Law School Admission Test scores[16] This decision predicated a movement of banning affirmative action, seen in California in 1997, Washington in 1998, and Florida in 1999.

However, in 2003, in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Supreme Court allowed the University of Michigan Law School to continue to consider race among other relevant diversity factors. The decision was the first and only legally challenged affirmative action policy to survive the courts. However, this ruling has rendered confusion among universities, and lower courts alike, regarding the status of affirmative action across the nation.

In 2012, Fisher v. University of Texas reached the Supreme Court.[17] The University of Texas allegedly used race as a factor in denying Abigail Fisher's application, denying her a fair review. The lower courts upheld the program, but the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the lower courts and sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit to review correctly. Colleges first started considering race in acceptance to correct discrimination, but in turn conflicted with the equal opportunity clause.


According to a report prepared in 1995 for the Labor Department of the United States by Alfred W. Blumrosen, affirmative action policies have caused few claims of reverse discrimination by whites. The report found less than 100 reverse-discrimination cases among more than 3,000 discrimination opinions by Federal district and appeals courts from 1990 to 1994. The report indicated that a high proportion of the claims lacked merit. In Blumrosen's report, national surveys revealed only a few whites had experienced reverse discrimination, and only 5 to 12 percent of whites believed that their race had cost them a job or promotion. In addition, Blumrosen's report indicated that the reports filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission offer additional evidence that reverse discrimination is rare: 2% of cases were of white men charging, sexual, racial or national origin discrimination and 1.8% were of white women charging racial discrimination.[18]

Furthermore, newer reports by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have found that less than 10% of race-related complaints were filed by whites, only 18% of gender-related complaints and only 4% of the court cases were filed by men.[19]

Analysis of other evidence shows that when national samples of whites are asked if they personally have experienced the loss of job, promotion, or college admission because of their race, 2%-13% say yes.[19]

See also







  1. "Google Scholar". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  2. "Reverse Discrimination".
  3. 1 2 R. Schaefer, ed. (2008). Encyclopedia of race, ethnicity, and society. Thousands Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc. ISBN 978-1412926942.
  4. Cher, George (1975). Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol 4, No.2 Winter: Justifying Reverse Discrimination in Employment. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 159–170. JSTOR 2265161.
  5. Baer, Judith (January 1982). "Reverse Discrimination: The Dangers of Hardened Categories". Law & Policy Quarterly. 4 (1): 71–94.
  6. Sowell, Thomas (August 1970). "Affirmative Action Reconsidered" (PDF): 59.
  7. "Purely Internal Situations, Reverse Discrimination, Guimont, Dzodzi and Article 234". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  8. "The Chronicle of Higher Education". July 16, 2009. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  9. Devanesan Nesiah. Discrimination With Reason? The Policy of Reservations in the United States, India and Malaysia. 1997. Oxford University Press. 0195639839.
  10. "Excess reservation will cause reverse discrimination, cautions Supreme Court". The Hindu.
  11. R. Kent Greenawalt. Discrimination and Reverse Discrimination. 1983. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-33577-5.
  12. Templeton, Sarah-Kate (2007-11-18). "'Doctor's Revolt at Anti-White Bias'". London: The Times. Retrieved 2010-06-30.
  13. Evans, W.D (2004). "Reverse Discrimination claims: Growing like kudzu". Maryland Bar Journal: 48–51.
  14. Pincus, F (2003). Reverse discrimination: Dismantling the myth. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
  15. 1 2 Sakile K. Camara, Mark P. Orbe (9 June 2011). "Understanding Interpersonal Manifestations of "Reverse Discrimination" Through Phenomenological Inquiry". Journal of Intercultural Communication Research: 111–134. doi:10.1080/17475759.2011.581032.
  16. Robert, Menache, Brian H Kleiner (1999). "New Developments in Reverse Discrimination". Equal Opportunities International. 18: 41.
  17. "Google Scholar". Retrieved 2015-10-26.
  18. Blumrosen, Alfred (1995). Draft Report on Reverse Discrimination Commissioned by Labor Department. Daily Labor Report.
  19. 1 2 Schaefer, Richard T. (25 April 2008). "Reverse Discrimination". Encyclopedia of Race, Ethnicity, and Society: 1160–1162.

Further reading

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