There's no such thing as 'reverse' discrimination

Q: "(In) your July 24 article about workplace discrimination, S.P. feels she may be the victim of "reverse discrimination." To make matters worse, you use the term in your response. As a sociology instructor for the last 20 years, I have painstakingly instructed my students that there is no such thing as "reverse discrimination." The fact is that racial discrimination occurs any time anyone is treated unfairly because of their race. All races have been and continue to be subjected to various forms of discrimination -- even by members of the same race. Racial discrimination is racial discrimination, regardless of who is doing the discriminating and who is being discriminated against. -- B.K., Las Vegas

A: In my entire life, I have never been invited to examine the phrase "reverse discrimination." Which is weird, because I have a reputation as an unrelenting fiend of precise use of language.

"Reverse discrimination" is a meaningless utterance. It was only obvious after you said it. And then it was immediately obvious. Once you notice the face of the "man in the moon," then you can't not notice it.

Reverse discrimination? It's as silly as declaring a "reverse war," or the victim of playground bullying starting a "reverse fistfight." If the beautiful woman at the bar decides not to wait for men to deliver their tired pickup lines, but rather decides to initiate her own intention for casual sex, is she a reverse player?

Now that you've said it, it just makes me laugh. At myself, for starters.

After giving it some thought, I wonder if we coined "reverse discrimination" to mean a less common discrimination, a discrimination originating from an unexpected, unlikely or surprising source. That is, most Americans who lived through or came of age in the '60s would automatically attach the word "discrimination" to a white person doing injustice to a nonwhite person. Reverse discrimination was our unexamined attempt to describe and distinguish a nonwhite person doing injustice to a white person.

Thanks, B.K. Xenophobia, racism, fear and egocentrism are equal-opportunity human predicaments. Universal. Observable wherever humans gather.

Q: I'm grieving so deeply, but I find that people don't want to hear one's sadness. The loneliness is brutal. I do everything they say one must do: keep busy, reach out, blah blah. Empty advice. I have no one. My love of 50 years passed away almost two years ago. I miss him. I cry. Maybe you get hundreds of letters like this one. It's scary to realize that, in almost two years, nobody spoke to me. I hate antidepressants. Medications don't agree with me. I won't do that. How can I numb my heartache? -- J.R., Las Vegas

A: You're right, of course: A lot of people don't want to be present to sadness -- their own or anyone else's. Other people would like to be present to their bereaved friends and family, but don't know how.

We live in a culture where grief is treated as a disease to be "cured," or a weakness worthy of shame or self-loathing.

Grief is the holiest of human journeys.

One of my favorite Friedrich Nietzsche quotes is, "Everything holy requires a veil." Now, modern Americans might think he means that we should keep things covered up because those things are shameful. Nope. He means that some things are so beautiful, so huge, so powerful, so naked, so intimate, that to gaze casually upon them would be injurious to their meaning and value. Injurious ultimately to us.

Grief is such a thing.

I concur with your observation that people around us are largely inept at befriending us in grief. Yet I also encourage people like you to remember to veil (protect and value) their grief. Keep the circle of confidants small. Pick two and no more than five people who will hear the depths of your pain.

There are two ways to read your question at the end. Literally you ask how you might numb the heartache. But I'm guessing you aren't being literal. In fact, it's not a question at all, is it? It reads more like an indignation. Like, how dare anyone ask you to numb the heartache! How dare the medical community suggest drugging your bereavement!

See, J.R., you know how precious your sadness is. A breathless, crushing burden, yes. But precious.

J.R., I'll never have a love of 50 years. You're the richest woman alive. Your pain is a privilege. Your honor.

Endure, good woman.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Clear View Counseling and Wellness Center in Las Vegas. His columns appear on Tuesdays and Sundays. Questions for the Asking Human Matters column or comments can be e-mailed to