Theories of Discrimination

In Chapter 3, we developed a two-part definition of racial discrimination: differential treatment on the basis of race that disadvantages a racial group and treatment on the basis of inadequately justified factors other than race that disadvantages a racial group (differential effect). We focus our discussion on discrimination against disadvantaged racial minorities. Our definition encompasses both individual behaviors and institutional practices.

To be able to measure the existence and extent of racial discrimination of a particular kind in a particular social or economic domain, it is necessary to have a theory (or concept or model) of how such discrimination might occur and what its effects might be. The theory or model, in turn, specifies the data that are needed to test the theory, appropriate methods for analyzing the data, and the assumptions that the data and analysis must satisfy in order to support a finding of discrimination. Without such a theory, analysts may conduct studies that do not have interpretable results and do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

The purpose of this chapter is to help researchers think through appropriate models of discrimination to guide their choice of data and analytic methods for measurement. We begin by discussing four types of discrimination and the various mechanisms that may lead to such discrimination. The first three types involve behaviors of individuals and organizations: intentional discrimination, subtle discrimination, and statistical profiling. The fourth type involves discriminatory practices embedded in an organizational culture. Next, we compare these discriminatory behaviors and institutional practices with existing legal standards defining discrimination in the courts

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