Discrimination happens in every society at every level. It is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different groups of people, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. Prejudice is the preconceived opinion of something not based on reason or actual experience, leading to the action of discrimination. 


Why do people discriminate? This American Psychological Association (APA) article breaks down discrimination into simpler terms. People tend to categorise things in order to make sense of the world, assigning value and meaning to these categories. At times, these meanings are based on fear and misunderstanding. Such prejudicial attitudes cause people to treat others who are different from them or perceived to be of lower importance, in a less than respectful manner. 


Discrimination can happen at a higher level too, where society at large discriminates against certain groups of people. It can even be legitimised by law, procedures, and policies. Institutional discrimination stems from systemic stereotypical beliefs held by the majority of a society. It can lead to instances of harsher punishments by the law on racial minorities, or even the Apartheid system in South Africa. Another example which may be more controversial is the discriminatory laws that prevent LGBTQ people from getting married, or having the same civil rights as heterosexual people. As society progress in many places, laws and guidelines are in place to protect people from discrimination in housing and employment. For example, Singapore has guiding principles stated in the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices that are formulated by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).


On another level, discrimination can happen at the day-to-day level where people experience micro-aggression. Receiving poorer service at a restaurant, being treated as less intelligent or trustworthy, are all acts of micro-aggression. These acts can be equally or even more hurtful than overt aggression. Listen to the ladies in this interview to find out why: 



The people who face discrimination – overt or subtle – can suffer constantly under stress or fear and it can be an unpleasant way to live. Their general well-being, self-esteem, self-worth, and social relations can be severely impacted. Those who have faced discrimination have reported higher levels of stress, and even those who do not experience direct discrimination, but belong to groups that are usually discriminated against, experience negative effects. 

Forms of discrimination 

Common forms of discrimination are class-based discrimination and gender discrimination. Disney is facing a lawsuit as a number of their female employees have alleged to being paid less than their male counterparts in the same rank. 

 Last year, Channel NewsAsia covered a story about the uncomfortable truths about how people who are seen to be in lower-valued jobs, or of lower economic status, have been treated harshly and disrespectfully. Social stratification was a buzz topic at that point in time. What has changed since then? 

Besides racial and gender discrimination, commute discrimination could also be a thing. A study in America found that applicants who lived nearer to the workplace received callbacks more than those living farther. In a sense, that is discrimination because most jobs are in the city center where housing can be more expensive. In the study, the resumes with “black” sounding names are also discriminated against with fewer callbacks. The effect of racial bias compounds with the location discrimination. 

Discrimination happens when we only see differences, and are blinded to our shared humanity and experiences. How would the world look like if people are more open to understanding and accepting differences?

Questions for further personal evaluation: 

  1. Have you ever been a victim or victimiser of discrimination? How did that feel?
  2. Is it ever possible to eradicate discrimination? Why, or why not? 

Useful vocabulary: 

  1. ‘litigation’: the process of taking legal action
  2. ‘scrutiny’: critical observation or examination
  3. ‘overt’: done or shown openly; plainly apparent

Here are more related articles for further reading:

  1. Mental Health Foundation: How people with mental health issues are discriminated against. 

“This is because society in general has stereotyped views about mental illness and how it affects people. Many people believe that people with mental ill health are violent and dangerous, when in fact they are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than harming other people.

Stigma and discrimination can also worsen someone’s mental health problems, and delay or impede their getting help and treatment, and their recovery. Social isolation, poor housing, unemployment and poverty are all linked to mental ill health. So stigma and discrimination can trap people in a cycle of illness.

The situation is exacerbated by the media. Media reports often link mental illness with violence, or portray people with mental health problems as dangerous, criminal, evil, or very disabled and unable to live normal, fulfilled lives.

This is far from the case.”


  1. Channel NewsAsia: The Singapore government’s approach to safeguarding racial and religious harmony against discriminatory practices. 

“In a media release on Thursday (Dec 27), the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said that Singapore’s report describes the Government’s holistic approach to preserving and strengthening social cohesion, which has three pillars.

These pillars are: Legislation that safeguards racial and religious harmony, policies that foster social integration and programmes that mobilise the community to work together for the common good, MCCY added.

The report also highlights “key measures” that Singapore has undertaken to eliminate racial discrimination and strengthen racial harmony, said the ministry.

Some of these measures include the roles of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, which scrutinises Bills and subsidiary legislation to ensure they do not disadvantage any racial or religious community; ethnic-based self-help groups, which provide assistance to low-income people; and the Ethnic Integration Policy, which aims to ensure a balanced ethnic mix across public housing estates, MCCY said.”