What is Racial Discrimination?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Racial discrimination, in law, is any act that treats people of other races in a different manner. Many countries have specific laws forbidding this practice, although others have few laws addressing this issue. Definitions may vary, and may not just define race by specific lineage, but they could use the term, color, so that treatment based on skin color is grouped under race discrimination, too. Many countries set up protected classes, like race, color, national origin, gender, religion, or sexual orientation, and it may be illegal to treat someone differently based on which class the person belongs to.

Racial discrimination can be found among any culture and race.
Racial discrimination can be found among any culture and race.

In the US, many laws forbid racial discrimination, and a number of these are directly derived from Title VII in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. The first of these acts states that employers cannot refuse to hire qualified employees based on race or skin color, and they can’t do other things like harass them, refuse promotions, or pay them at lower rates because of their race. The 1991 Civil Rights Act defines some ways that people who have experienced this discrimination can sue.

Many laws in the United States forbid racial discrimination.
Many laws in the United States forbid racial discrimination.

Countries, cities, states, or regions can have additional laws attempting to end discrimination based on race. These laws could address issues like the consequences of treating people differently if they attempt to get a loan, rent an apartment, use a business or a business service, or if they try to take advantage of government services to which they are entitled. Many of these laws address behaviors that were common in parts of the US prior to the 1964 Act, such as the tendency in many parts of the American South to segregate races or promote “whites only” service.

Racial discrimination involves treating others differently on the basis of race.
Racial discrimination involves treating others differently on the basis of race.

It can be difficult to prove racial discrimination in some circumstances. A person of a protected class might not get hired for a job, for example, and he or she could believe this due to discrimination. In order to make a case, the person would have to establish that his skills are equal or better than those of someone who was hired, and that the person hired didn’t also belong to a protected class. Moreover, it might be necessary to show that the company had a history of turning down applicants due to race.

It may be easier to prove discrimination when a company treats employees of a different race or color in an unfair way. If all or most employees of a specific race make less money than other employees, this could be actionable. The law generally determines the degree to which racism is allowable, and attorneys specializing in civil rights cases are usually the best people to consult to find out if an organization’s behavior somehow breaks established laws.

President Kennedy was responsible for sending the Civil Rights Act to Congress in 1963.
President Kennedy was responsible for sending the Civil Rights Act to Congress in 1963.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I disagree that racial discrimination has gotten better. The only change is that it has been reversed. Employers are scared to reprimand or terminate employees of a "minority" race for fear of a suit or other negative repercussions, however there is no hesitation to implement this recourse on a "majority" because it is no threat.

One other comment: I thought we were all Americans, so doesn't the label African-American perpetuate the segregation of people?

I do not go around touting a self-applied title of French-Irish-American. Everyone's blood runs the same color and that's where all of this should end.


SurfNTurf- I think that the United States has come a long way in mending the racial divide by electing Obama.

But I think that too many people here voted for him because they wanted to make history. They did not follow Martin Luther King’s words of judging someone on the content of their character because I am sure if that was the case, Obama would have never been elected.

He had a lot of questionable ties all routed in anti US sentiment. He also idealized Saul Alinsky which he wrote about in his book. Saul Alinsky epitomized communism. A lot of his beliefs stem from his parents who were both self described communists.

In fact, his father said in a speech that taxing 100% of someone’s income was not unreasonable.


Sunny27-That is a great story. I think that discrimination whether it is race-based or gender based is wrong because you really can’t determine one’s potential based on those things.

It is best to remember Martin Luther King’s famous words, “You should judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.” The color of someone’s skin has nothing to do with their character and their character is what determines what kind of person that they are.

It is a shame that we have to have racial discrimination lawyers, but the sad truth is that as much progress as we have made there will still be some isolated instances that will need legal attention.


Bhutan- I used to work for Publix Supermarkets all through college about twenty years ago and they really adhered to racial discrimination in the workplace.

As a matter of fact, the discrimination was not just racial it was also gender based. Publix Supermarkets at that time did not allow women in management and all of the members of management were white men.

There were a handful of African-American managers out of thousands of white managers and they were also low level managers. There were no women in the ranks of management.

In the mid 90’s, a class action lawsuit was filed against Publix Supermarkets in conjunction with the Equal Opportunity Commission based on racial and gender based discriminatory practices in their management structure.

The class action lawsuit was successful and if you go into a Publix Supermarket today, you will see a variety of ethnicities in managerial positions. You may also see a women’s photograph on the wall as a store manager which was unheard of twenty years ago.


Racial discrimination today while still may occur is less prevalent then it was years ago. With the advent of Title VII Racial Discrimination Act more companies are even offering diversity training to its employees to ensure that there are no misunderstands and there would be no racial discrimination.

Most companies even display posters that state that they forbade racial discrimination in the workplace. There will always be some people in the world that exhibit racism but there are laws to protect the victims of racism and all they need is to seek a racial discrimination attorney and they can fight any racial discrimination in the workplace.

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