Insensible Discrimination: discriminating without thinking about it

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Insensible Discrimination: discriminating without thinking about it

Henrik Bergius

On a seminar on LGBTQ work environment, I was introduced to a term that I’ve found really useful in terms of describing the more invisible kind of discrimination marginalized people face: “insensible discrimination.” This is the discrimination that you won’t notice unless it happens to you frequently. This isn’t hate-speech we’re talking about but the insensible comments and questions you might get when you’re breaking norms. So without further ado, here are 5 ways you might discriminate without thinking about it:

  1. Intrusive question: This is probably the most common type of insensible discrimination for people who are trans or gender-non-conforming face. These are questions you would never ask someone unless you knew of their norm-breaking identity. Standard ones are: what genitals do you have? What is your “real” name? Were you born a boy or a girl? For same-gender-attracted people they often come in the form of who is the man in your relationship?
  2. Inappropriate jokes: There are many ways you can make jokes about marginalized people but most of them are pretty rude and not very funny. People in power can easily use “humor” as a way of ridiculing marginalized people and in a social setting insensitive jokes can be used to test the water to see if others also share bigoted opinions.
  3. Avoidance of topics: Avoiding talking to a co-worker about their life at home because they have a same-sex partner and you would rather not think about that is actually kind of homophobic. Especially if you have no problem asking your hetero co-workers how their wife/husband is. This also goes for avoiding using a trans persons pronouns in favour of using their name, if it happens a lot people will definitely notice.
  4. Visible discomfort with someone’s identity: The classic walk-out-of-the-room-when-someone-says-the-word-gay move. Or the sigh-and-roll-your-eyes at the mention of non-binary. Don’t do this, but if you really have to please still don’t do it.
  5. Prejudiced comments: Not everyone knows a lot about queer identities and that’s okay as long as you don’t let the prejudice go to your head. Examine your views and do research to see if they are correct. Extra important is to use the correct terminology as some words used for queer people historically actually are considered derogatory by today’s standard.

So those are some different forms of insensible discrimination. I’ve only used examples from queer experiences, but this kind of discrimination can absolutely be against other marginalized groups. Generally, the safest way to not discriminate is to just treat everyone with respect and do research if there is something you don’t know.

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