Difference Between Discrimination and Harassment

Key Difference – Discrimination vs Harassment

Discrimination and harassment are words, or rather behaviors or treatments meted out to individuals or groups of people that are illegal and unwarranted. We have all along heard about racial discrimination that was used to treat people differently on the basis of differences in the color of their skins. We are also aware of discrimination on the basis of ethnicity as was seen in anti-Semitism in Hitler’s Nazi Germany. There is another word harassment that refers to poor or bad treatment of people, especially on the basis of sex. There are many similarities between discrimination and harassment to confuse students. However, there are also differences that will be highlighted in this article.

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination is said to have taken place when someone or a group of people is treated less favorably than another person or group solely because the color of their skin, race, ethnicity, sex, age, disability, marital status, faith, or even sexual preference. Feelings of superiority and hatred are said to be behind this behavior or attitude known as discrimination. Discrimination is seen or felt in many countries and in many parts of the world. The most common example of discrimination is racial discrimination, which was rampant in US till the beginning of 20th century. Black people and people with mixed ethnicities were treated with disrespect and arrogance by whites. This racial discrimination was also seen in the behavior of the whites against Indians during the British rule and in South Africa till recently where it was known as apartheid. In India, the division of people in castes and untouchables has led to a kind of discrimination that has not been seen anywhere in the world since the dawn of civilization. To stop this practice, government arranged for quotas for the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe people though this has been dubbed as reverse discrimination by the intelligential.

Discrimination is not always on the basis of color of the skin or caste of a person. It can be done to distinguish among people, to treat them differentially. Whenever a person is not treated on par with others because of a characteristic feature, age, sex, caste, color of skin, gender etc., he or she is said to be a victim of discrimination.

Difference Between Discrimination and Harassment

What is Harassment?

Harassment is to make someone feel intimidated or insulted or humiliated just because of his different ethnicity, color of skin, sex, sexual preference or orientation, age, disability etc. There can be many different kinds of behaviors coming under the definition of harassment, but all of these behaviors are of an offensive nature. It is the sexual harassment that has been the most common and popular form of harassment found in most parts of the world, especially at workplaces. These pertain to sexual advances where the victim is threatened with dire consequences if she refuses. Harassment is not always violent or physical as it can also be done at a psychological level where only the victim knows about the behavior. One can cause harassment through unpleasant remarks and jokes though it can get to physical violence too.

Discrimination vs Harassment

What is the difference between Discrimination and Harassment?

Definitions of Discrimination and Harassment:

Discrimination: Discrimination is differential treatment to a person or group of people on the basis of their color of skin, caste, sex, age, disability etc.

Harassment: Harassment is a kind of discriminatory behavior where a person is singled out and subject to unwanted behavior because of his race, color of skin, sex, sexual orientation etc.

Characteristics of Discrimination and Harassment:


Discrimination: This entails all forms of differential treatment.

Harassment: This can be considered as a form of discrimination.


Discrimination: Discrimination is based on color of skin, caste, sex, age, disability etc.

Harassment: Harassment is based on race, color of skin, sex, sexual orientation etc.


Image Courtesy:

1. The Rex theater for colored people, Leland, Mississippi, 1937 By Dorothea Lange [Public Domain] via Commons

2. “-The Blackmail” by Leon israel – Own work. [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Commons