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positive discriminationsocial policies encouraging favourable treatment of socially disadvantaged ‘minority’ groups, especially in employment, education and housing. These policies aim to reverse historical trends of DISCRIMINATION and to create EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY. The term is roughly synonymous with affirmative action and reverse discrimination.
In the US, where affirmative action programmes have been in operation since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, these policies have created considerable controversy and litigation. In defending the concept of positive discrimination, President Lyndon Johnson said, ‘You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others", and still justly believe that you have been completely fair’.
The arguments of those opposed to positive discrimination can be represented by the views of Glazer (1975), who argues that affirmative action ‘has meant that we abandon the first principle of a liberal society, that the individual's interests and good and welfare are the test of a good society, for now we attach benefits and penalties to individuals simply on the basis of their race, color, and national origins.’
Despite calls for programmes of positive discrimination in the UK, it remains illegal under existing Sex Discrimination and Race Relations Acts.