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Discrimination vs. Racism: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Updated on October 20, 2023
Discrimination is unjust treatment based on various categories; racism is discrimination based on race or ethnicity.

Key Differences

Discrimination refers to the unfair or prejudicial treatment of people based on certain characteristics, such as age, gender, or disability. Racism, on the other hand, is a specific form of discrimination based on race or ethnicity.
Both concepts are harmful, though they manifest in distinct ways. While discrimination can encompass a wide range of behaviors, racism specifically deals with prejudices and biases against racial groups. In practice, racism is a subset of discrimination, indicating that all acts of racism are discriminatory, but not all acts of discrimination are racist.
For instance, not hiring someone because they're elderly is discrimination, but not necessarily racism. Conversely, not hiring someone due to their skin color is both discrimination and racism.

Comparison Chart


Unfair treatment based on various categories
Discrimination specifically based on race


Broader (covers race, gender, age, etc.)
Narrower (focuses only on racial prejudice)


Based on gender, age, disability, etc.
Based on skin color, ethnicity, etc.

Related Concepts

Sexism, ageism, ableism
Ethnocentrism, xenophobia

Common Manifestation

Workplace bias, social exclusion
Racial slurs, belief in racial superiority

Discrimination and Racism Definitions


Discrimination is bias or prejudice resulting in denial of opportunity.
She faced discrimination because of her disability.


Racism is a policy or system of government based on racial segregation.
Apartheid in South Africa was a clear manifestation of institutional racism.


Discrimination is the unjust treatment of different categories of people.
Age discrimination in the workplace is illegal.


Racism is the hatred or intolerance of another race.
His comments revealed a deep-seated racism.


Discrimination is the ability to discern what is of high quality.
He has a fine discrimination for art.


Racism is prejudice or discrimination directed against someone of a different race.
He faced racism at every turn in his new town.


Discrimination is recognizing and understanding the difference between one thing and another.
Her keen sense of discrimination helps in making business decisions.


Racism is the belief in the superiority of one race over another.
The book delved into the origins of racism in society.


Discrimination is a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing.
The policy seemed to be one of clear gender discrimination.


Racism is the belief that characteristics and abilities can be attributed to people based on their race.
The idea that certain races are inherently smarter is a form of racism.


The act of discriminating.


The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others.


What are some examples of discrimination?

Not hiring someone due to age or excluding someone because of their religion are examples of discrimination.

What is racism?

Racism is a form of discrimination based specifically on race or ethnicity.

How does institutional racism differ from individual racism?

Institutional racism is systemic and embedded in organizations, while individual racism comes from personal beliefs and actions.

Can a single act be both discriminatory and racist?

Yes, if it involves unfair treatment based on both a non-racial category and race.

Are racism and ethnocentrism the same?

No, while both involve superiority beliefs, racism is based on race, and ethnocentrism is based on culture or nationality.

Can societies overcome discrimination and racism?

With education, awareness, and structural changes, societies can reduce and combat both discrimination and racism.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is the unfair treatment of people based on certain characteristics like age, gender, or race.

Can discrimination occur outside of race?

Yes, discrimination can occur based on gender, age, religion, disability, and many other factors.

What are some examples of racism?

Racial slurs, belief in racial superiority, or not hiring someone due to their skin color are examples of racism.

What are some common misconceptions about discrimination?

One misconception is that discrimination only pertains to major, overt actions, when subtle biases also count.

Is racism always intentional?

No, sometimes individuals may exhibit racist behavior or biases without being aware of it.

How is racism perpetuated in society?

Through media, upbringing, stereotypes, and systemic structures, among other means.

Why is understanding the difference between discrimination and racism important?

To effectively address and combat each issue, it's essential to understand their distinct characteristics.

How can individuals combat discrimination and racism?

By educating themselves, challenging biases, and promoting inclusivity and understanding in their communities.

Is all racism a form of discrimination?

Yes, all racism is discriminatory, but not all discrimination is racist.

Are there laws against discrimination and racism?

Yes, many countries have laws prohibiting various forms of discrimination, including racism.

Is discrimination always negative?

While often negative, the term can also refer to discerning differences without bias, as in "taste discrimination."

Can someone be unintentionally discriminatory?

Yes, individuals can exhibit discriminatory behavior or biases without being aware of it.

What are the societal impacts of racism?

Racism can lead to economic disparities, health inequities, and social tension among communities.

What's the difference between discrimination and prejudice?

Prejudice is a preconceived opinion, while discrimination is acting on those opinions.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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