Discrimination on basis of race or ethnic origin or WHAT IS IT?

What is and what is not discrimination on racial, national and ethnic origin?

Discrimination is the unjustifiable or unequal treatment of people by representatives of state or any other individual or party who maintains any particular power or competence over them. It is the responsibility of state institutions to oversee relations between different groups incorporated in their state and that none of these groups is discriminated against on the basis of national, racial or ethnic origin.

What is racial, national and ethnic origin?

There are many definitions for the words race,nation, and ethnicity. For over two centuries, the university libraries of the world have been filled with thickly bound books debating their precise meaning, though researchers will probably never reach a consensus. For the purpose of understanding discrimination, however, we can narrow the definitions down to several observations.

Racial origin is often associated with the color of one’s skin, or some other obvious physical feature that sets the people apart. Even though the civilized world no longer accepts fascist or Nazi theories about the superiority of one race over another, the concept of race has continuously been used to describe the motives of discrimination or violent criminal acts. In Slovakia, Roma, black Africans, Vietnamese and people from the Far East are regarded as people different from the majority. Nationality and ethnicity are ovelaping terms and they tend to be interexchnged. The term nationality is linked with one´s affiliation to national group while the term ethnicity relates to one´s membership in ethnic group.

Nation is different from ethnic group in that it inhabits specific territory and has a tradition of statehood and autonomous self-government. Nation and ethnic group are distinguished by their own language, culture, customs etc. National minorities are seen as people different than majority, speaking of both local inhabitants (Hungarians, Polish, Czech, Ukrainians, Rutheanians, etc in Slovakia) and immigrants from other countries (refugees, etc.).

Who can discriminate?

The state can discriminate through its representatives, i.e. officials and clerks, police and customs officers, prison guards, judges, prosecutors etc. Also any person can discriminate that is in a position of power over others or has the authority to make influential decisions concerning them. This could be represented by a doctor deciding upon surgery or rehabilitation procedures, a clerk from self-government proposing a civic request at the town representation meeting, an employee of an insurance company informing a policy holder about rights resulting from insurance, or a teacher disregarding a student’s grade.

A public service provider can also discriminate, for example an owner of a restaurant or a private security agent who may or may not allow access to an amusement park or the restaurant.

An employer can discriminate against a new or senior employee, deciding on benefits or promotion of his/her subordinates may be partial.

Colleagues can discriminate against others in their workplace or students can discriminate against their schoolmate – for example by mocking, humiliating, verbally abusing, or inciting to act discriminatory – as people in employment or at school share the same environment and results of their work or study efforts often depend on cooperation with others.

The inevitable condition, which has to be met before we can speak of discrimination, is that the one who discriminates has to have power or has to be in a position to make influential decisions, provide service or sell goods to others, or be involved in closed environment relations where people depend on one another.

Is discrimination the same as intolerance?

Discrimination is not the same as intolerance. If two neighbors hate each other, from which one is Roma and the other is Slovak, and the and Slovak family deliberately burns their lawn right when their neighbors are having a picnic in the garden because Roma family has loud music on until late night making lot of noise – this is not discrimination but neighbor intolerance. Such conflict can be very serious and possibly may end up in court, but one can hardly find any discrimination in it, as neighbors are in their relations equal and they do not depend upon each other.

When skinheads scribble racist inscriptions on town walls it is a display of their hate and intolerance that is unseemly and illegal. It can be considered the criminal act of dishonoring a race or nation which has to be upheld by law. However, it is not discrimination. More so, we can find discrimination behind the bullying of a child for darker skin color by schoolmates, which is neither prevented nor suppressed by teachers or the school principal. In this case the bullying schoolmates as well as the school as an institution commit discrimination (the school fails to provide security to the Roma child and prevent it from the bullying; as a result the Roma is discriminated against in comparison to other pupils).

When a group of neo-Nazis beats up African students at a rock concert resulting in personal injuries requiring a stay in hospital, it commits the criminal act of grievous bodily harm. Furthermore, the racist motive in the case of committing bodily harm gets assessed more strictly by law. If policemen, investigators, or judges qualify the act only as a misdemeanor and the malefactors get away with only minimal punishment, it is legitimate to speak of discrimination because the state institutions are unable or unwilling to provide protection of health and security to some portion of state residents.

The state has a duty to protect people against all expressions of hatred and violence as well as guarantee that citizens can exercise their basis rights and freedoms without any unrighteous restrictions from the part of others. If a state fails to meet those duties toward a specific national or ethnic group, we can speak of discrimination.

Discrimination is also an unsupported unequal treatment that is unfavorable to the person affected by it. However, cases exist where receiving unequal treatment from a state or private persons can be rationally reasoned and in that particular situation is even inevitable. Then we do not consider unequal treatment discrimination.

When perhaps a Roma folk music band announces an audition for a role of singer and dancer it has the right to ask candidates to have Roma ethnicity. If a talented candidate meets all artistic requirements but he/she has white skin and blond hair he or she may not complain about discrimination when rejected. Why? Because the precondition of ethnic or national affiliation – and with that also the relation towards the ethic culture – is essential and can be rationally reasoned.

Another example of such justification given special criteria, might be the requirement of an organization providing social work in Roma settlements to seek terrain social workers with Roma ethnic origin. The organization can justify this requirement by saying that a social worker with Roma nationality can understand the culture, language and customs of the Roma community better and can break the initial barrier of distrust amongst the Roma people more easily.

For better understanding formulations used in this text do not necessarily copy the exact wording of the Constitution, legal acts or European directives. When filing a legal complaint or any other legal or expert operation look directly into appropriate directives or seek professional help.