“Discrimination” comes from the Latin prefix “dis-,” meaning “apart from” or “away from.” Its root, “crimen,” denoting “blame” or “judgment,” gives us “crime” and all of its variants. Carrying negative and positive connotations, to discriminate is to come to a judgment about something or someone or to set it apart from something else with similar characteristics. To be “discriminating” suggests a finer taste and sensibility, the ability to distinguish good from bad, and the capacity to discern desirable from undesirable. It can indicate good judgment, a kind of refinement, and even snobbery. In the context of public law, “discrimination” most often refers to a formal declaration to treat two groups differently; such a collective decision can imply a majority’s desire to elevate some and to denigrate others, even though they may otherwise share similar attributes. White supremacists in the United States have long insisted that racial discrimination is based on notions of “good taste” or “common sense” that distinguish “good people” (whites) from “other people” (nonwhites, beings who may not be fully human and thus not entitled to the same treatment as whites). While there are many forms of discrimination in the world—based on gender, age, sexual orientation, and class,...

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