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  Discrimination literally refers to judging or differentiating between objects, persons or attributes. In politics it refers to the unfavourable or unequal treatment for appointment or promotion of individuals or groups, normally by reference to criteria which are irrelevant or prejudicial for the proposed task or function. The purpose of discrimination can either be positive or negative. Negative discrimination is used unjustly to deny an individual or group access to some privilege or opportunity normally based on their race, sex, age, language, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. For example, the denial of a black person the right to vote in South Africa denied that person access to power based upon a criterion, race, which has nothing to do with that person\'s ability to exercise a political choice. Positive or reverse discrimination, by contrast, attempts to compensate for past instances of negative discrimination by rewarding an individual or group with a privilege or opportunity (see affirmative action).

Discrimination can be exercised either directly or indirectly. Direct discrimination may be the most obvious and apparently harmful, but in fact its overtones also makes it more difficult to defend in the light of public scrutiny. Indirect discrimination is potentially more harmful because its covert nature allows it to pervade institutions. Examples of indirect discrimination include tacit cultural biases against poor people in college entrance exams, questions about the care of children in interviews, the ‘gerrymandering’ of electoral boundaries to ensure the under-representation of representatives of certain communities, and hiring people who come from certain schools which just happen to have disproportionate numbers of pupils with a given physical or cultural background. BO\'L

See also conservatism; equality; liberalism; socialism and social democracy.Further reading R.J. Cormack and , R.D. Osborne (eds.), Discrimination and Public Policy in Northern Ireland; , P. Figueroa, Education and the Social Structure of ‘Race’.



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