Have you discriminated this year? Let’s step into the “Year of No Discrimination” in 2021 together.

Have you discriminated this year?

When faced with this question, 99% of us, including myself, would answer: no, and we wouldn’t.


Unintentional Discrimination

In 2020, due to the Floyd incident, we became aware of a type of discrimination called “unintentional discrimination.” This type of discrimination has existed for a long time, and its official name is systemic discrimination. Note that it is systemic, not systematic. If we have to translate it rigidly, it means “systemic discrimination,” but I don’t like this translation. “Structural discrimination” is slightly better, but I think “unintentional discrimination” is more appropriate because the scariest thing about this type of discrimination is that you don’t know you’re discriminating because everyone else is doing it. The emphasis is on “unintentional” – you may unknowingly hurt the person you are praising out of good intentions.

Don’t say you haven’t, and you wouldn’t. You may have done it without realizing it.

Discrimination in Praise

A few years ago, I rode my mountain bike on a very challenging route, climbing through a pile of rocks, with very demanding physical and technical requirements. During a break, I saw three men and a woman ruthlessly overtaking us. They all had superhuman strength and skills. I couldn’t help but say to the white girl riding at the back, “Wow, you’re amazing!” At the time, I even gave her a thumbs up, and I was sincerely praising her.

Then I saw her turn around and give me a dirty look, and with her eyes, she replied with a curse word. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why. Now I know it’s called “discrimination in praise.” My praise was packaged with discrimination. What I saw was only the packaging, but what the other person heard was the content.


The actual location where “discrimination in praise” occurs.

Benevolent Discrimination

A girl went to a sports equipment store to buy professional sports equipment. The clerk warmly greeted her and recommended suitable equipment for her, but the suitability was judged based on gender and appearance. The clerk said: “This kind of equipment is enough for most girls like you.” If the matter stops here, the clerk will never know or admit that she is discriminating. She is just kindly recommending suitable products to customers, and most listeners don’t even know they have been discriminated against. Therefore, since both parties are unaware, this matter has never happened…until someone feels uncomfortable and is hurt someday.

It is because of this that this kind of discrimination has been continuing, with the same perception from the roots to the leaves. This is where the unintentional discrimination has the strongest impact. It is a structural problem.

This kind of discrimination can penetrate into any corner, and even Silicon Valley, which cares most about equality, is constantly experiencing it.

Subconscious Discrimination

When the engineering department in Silicon Valley hires people, if two resumes have equal qualifications, but one is an Indian and the other is a white person…those who have hired people know that most of the time, the Indian will be selected. I have made this mistake myself. Why? Because we subconsciously believe that Indians’ technical skills surpass those of white people. But if it is hiring a manager, we are likely to choose a white person because we believe that their management ability is stronger.

When making these decisions, people only think that doing so is “also for the good of the company,” hoping to find the most suitable person as quickly as possible. Believe me, this kind of discrimination happens every day in Silicon Valley.


Structural Discrimination

I once went on a business trip from the United States to Shanghai and stayed in a five-star hotel. The company booked a business suite, and we could enjoy free breakfast on the top floor as VIP guests. That floor was not open to the public and was only available to VIP guests. I stayed there for two weeks and saw all the Westerners seated, and the service staff never checked their room cards. But if they saw an Eastern face that looked more “domestic,” they would politely ask for the room card, as if that politeness could eliminate any impropriety. I was dressed more American, maybe they saw me as someone from outside of China.

But about a quarter of the people present were Chinese, who were discriminated against by their own compatriots in their own country, and not a single person complained after two weeks. Do they take this phenomenon for granted?

If you ask the service staff present if they discriminate, the answer will definitely be that it is impossible to discriminate against people from their own country. This is the most typical structural discrimination, which can happen in one’s own home, but no one has ever noticed its existence.

The Floyd Incident: A Turning Point in 2020

The Floyd incident has prompted many people who have experienced discrimination to speak out. However, simply saying “I am not discriminatory, I do not discriminate” is not enough. We must recognize the darkest aspect of this discriminatory structure, which is “ignorance and indifference.”

If we all tolerate this “unintentional mistake,” and let it spread, then one day when you realize that you have been hurt, you will know how lonely and powerless you are. We can fight against a jerk who openly discriminates, but it is difficult to fight against unintentional discrimination, and no one can fight against structural discrimination. That feeling of being hurt and lonely can be very scary.

The Floyd incident has made us realize that structural discrimination exists in every corner of the earth, sometimes disguised as good intentions and indifference, and has been passed down legitimately… This awareness should be the most positive thing in 2020.

As we leave the darkness of 2020, if we can take away one valuable thing, it should be a deep understanding that “unintentional mistakes are still mistakes.” Simply saying “I am not discriminatory, I do not discriminate” is not enough. Let us work together to break that structure.

In 2021, let us hope that we can enter the “Year of Non-Discrimination.”