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Stephen L. Carter

‘Reverse Discrimination’ Is a Concept With a Long, Ugly History

Debate affirmative action all you want, but please stop using this odious phrase.

Outside the Supreme Court.

Outside the Supreme Court.

Photographer: The Washington Post/Getty Images

This being affirmative action week at the US Supreme Court, talk of “reverse discrimination” is in the air. I think it’s time to find another form of words.

Don’t get me wrong. Though I favor affirmative action, my problem isn’t with people who disagree. I’m troubled by the phrase itself. And it’s not being used only by critics of the way colleges conduct their admissions programs. In late October, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit used it in ruling for a White employee who alleged that he’d been fired unjustly. A quick look at the case, together with an assessment of history, will show why the term “reverse discrimination” should be abandoned.