Discrimination in the present world
Overcoming discrimination is something that everyone agrees is essential. Yet there is discrimination in almost every part of the world.
Although Scientists have long disproven any significant change in a person’s attributes due to the amount of melanin in their skin, racism is still at large in this world.
All religious texts and scriptures at least by their widely recognized interpretations claim that all humans are equal and deserve dignity and respect.
Religious discrimination in almost every part of the world to some extent or another still exists.
The case for discrimination in gender and over sexual orientation is even worse. We all recognize that discrimination is bad so it becomes really hard to understand why does it still exist in the world, and what can we do about it?
Discrimination vs Stereotype vs Prejudice
To know why discrimination exists we must first understand what discrimination is.
Terms like Stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination aren’t the same. They all hold completely different meanings while being related to each other.
These are oversimplified generalizations about groups of people. Stereotypes can be based on race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation. Stereotypes do not have to be negative and can even be accurate at times.
For example, you might have a stereotype that women are not as good at American football as men. Another stereotype can be that blind men cannot drive.
Although sometimes stereotypes can be accurate, in every case a stereotype never considers individual differences.
Psychologists believe that individual’s experiences over their life play a role in the formations of these stereotypes whereas sociologists believe that they are a result of conflict, poor parenting, and inadequate mental and emotional development.
Prejudice is pre-judgment. It means that a person holds an unjustified negative attitude toward a group or an individual.
It is not based on actual experience. Thus, prejudice is an attitude, or belief that someone holds about a group.
This unfair judgment is common. Most people hold unfair judgments of other people. Society plays a big part in that as well.
Most prejudices can be contributed to the Just World phenomenon that states that people get what they deserve or people deserve what they eventually get.
This becomes a way of maintaining the status quo. Others are contributed to the In Group-Out Group phenomenon that we will talk about in-depth later in the article.
When stereotypical beliefs combine with a prejudicial attitude, the decisions a person makes are influenced by emotions. Such decisions constitute discrimination.
People can have prejudicial attitudes and yet not act on them.
For example- A recruiter might have a prejudice that black people are thieves. That is just a prejudice. However if due to that reason the person does not hire a black person for a job, that constitutes discrimination based on racial grounds.
Thus discrimination is the behavior that is caused by prejudicial attitudes.
The presence of discrimination at an institutional level
Following is a news coverage of a person who was driving his car. Accompanying him was his friend and his young daughter.
When the man saw a police car, he predicted that he would be stopped and moments later he was.
This second clip is of a young 11-year-old girl that was tackled repeatedly by a police officer for ‘taking too much milk from the cafeteria’.
Instances like these point to institutional discrimination that black people face in the United States and similar discrimination is faced by people of different groups on the basis of their identity all over the world.
I chose to show these cases first because they represent a divide. These cases do not get coverage like the Eric Garner case. The incident where a police officer placed unarmed Eric in a chokehold that resulted in him dying.
That incident sparked national outrage and yet the officer responsible wasn’t charged.
Even though most people would argue that the Eric Garner case was seriously racially motivated the incidents other than that show how the problem isn’t with just a few racist cops.
They show systemic problems that go unnoticed for the majority of the people. The sad fact is that they might not even surprise many people of color.
We can all agree that discrimination is a difficult topic. Even a non-judgemental conversation may become charged with emotions when people bring up beliefs and attitudes.
So then, you might ask how one person would know if they are discriminating against another. A general rule of thumb is that an act is discriminatory if there aren’t any differences that justify unequal treatment.
So do I mean there are morally relevant reasons that can justify unequal behavior? Yes.
As we stated before you would not want a blind person to drive your car, or a surgeon without steady hands to operate on a relative.
You would want an Indian person playing the role of Gandhi and a black person playing the role of Obama in a film.
Thus, there are justifications that make sense sometimes. However, even those justifications aren’t universal and in some cases, the justifications that hold true for one thing might not hold true for others.
For example- A property owner might not allow an openly racist to live in his apartment and might be appreciated to stand firm on his beliefs of not promoting racism.
However, what happens if the same property owner does not allow a homosexual couple to live in his apartment because of his beliefs of not promoting same-sex marriage?
Do just expanding freedoms help in overcoming discrimination
Due to such cases, one might think that people should be allowed to do anything they want. If a person owns a property he should have complete freedom to reject any tenant on any grounds.
Maybe an off-hand approach is better in overcoming discrimination in society? However, what does an off-hand approach look like in real sense?
A school should be allowed to only take in students of a particular race or religion if they want to. A Multinational company may be allowed to hire only a particular gender if it wants to. The problem becomes apparent, does it not?
In her passionate response, representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made this point that by citing freedoms people often justify discrimination.
The freedom to marry anyone they choose for homosexuals, as well as the abolition of slavery, was stalled for decades in the name of religious freedoms.
By giving freedoms like these we snatch away freedoms from the people that are most discriminated against. In addition, the freedoms only benefit the people in power i.e. those that have a business or money.
An approach towards the root causes is essential overcoming discrimination
Everywhere in the world, it is said that the only cure for discrimination is education and economic policy. However, it is proven time and again that these alone do not address the root causes of the problem.
In her Ted Talk about racial injustice, Professor Megan Ming Francis that teaches political science and Constitutional Law at the University of Washington described it eloquently that to solve such a problem we first need to expand our vision and responsibility of what civil rights actually mean.
She challenges the attitudes that people hold at the forefront of the problem and blames a society that propagates those prejudices by its actions or sometimes by its silence over actions.
This she believes can be done through activism and demonstrations that capture the imagination of the country as the civil rights movement did before. Such actions can shift the Overton window toward a more just society.
She lauds the black lives matter movement that has brought focus towards the institutional racism in her country as an example of a good first fight against racial discrimination.
Why is this important?
This is because as shown repeatedly above; aside from the explicit acts of discrimination there are many implicit acts of discrimination that go un-noticed. The reason for this is the Implicit-Bias of people.
An Implicit Bias or an Automatic/ non-conscious bias is prejudice at a subconscious level. It often is contrary to what we consciously believe and is based on the rapid stereotypes that we hold in our minds.
An example of implicit Bias- Let’s say you think all Rich people are greedy.
If a rich person approaches and talks to you, everything he says will have a vibe of greediness. Thus no matter what he says you might have a perception that he is being greedy.
To try to gauge implicit attitudes and beliefs, implicit association tests were created. These tests can predict discriminatory behavior with scary accuracy.
Implicit Bias tests
The test places an image or a word in a stereotypical condition where you can choose right or left to place them in associations.
For example, you might be given to chose the words appearing to go Left for Islam and bad or Right for Christianity and good.
Then the test does the same exercise in a counter stereotypical condition where you have to choose Left for Islam and good or Right for Christianity and bad.
The more quickly you associate some things as good or some things as bad can show the inherent implicit bias you have.
This approach gives us a more accurate understanding of the perceptions and beliefs of people.
It by nature is preventive and reduces the stigma that is associated with society to people that try to talk about the associations and biases that they have. You can take a test to know your own biases here.
By using such methods, we can be more aware of the automatic biases we hold and thus can be cautious if we are about to make decisions based on them.
Also by constant self-evaluations and corrections, we can overcome these biases and become more in line with our conscious belief structure.
Inspiration for this article
This article was inspired by the efforts and actions of my idols Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Mr. Fred Hampton, Professor Jane Elliot, and Mr. B.R. Ambedkar.
I am sure you know plenty about Dr. King’s work in civil rights struggle and Mr. Hampton’s role in the Black Panther party, however, you may not know much about Mr. Ambedkar and Mrs. Jane Elliot.
In Group Out Group phenomenon
After the assassination of Dr. King, Jane Elliot who was a teacher in an elementary school felt like she had to do something.
She conducted an experiment that went to the core and showed how conditions of learned hate over the course of people’s life was meaningless.
She divided her class of students by the color of their eyes. On one day, the experiment centered on showing that students with brown eyes were superior.
They were given more recess time, the teacher was kinder and more affectionate to them and the students who had blue eyes were made to wear collars showing that they were inferior in intellect and argumentative.
The students that were told that they were superior gave in to the notion as well and started being mean and vicious to their fellow classmates. These were just 3rd standard students that were saying hateful and vituperative things to each other.
The next day the experiment was reversed and the brown-eyed people were told that they were in fact inferior to blue-eyed people.
This experiment demonstrated that even groups formed on a meaningless factor such as the color of eyes or hair can lead to hate and discrimination that gets justified.
Learnings from Jane Elliot’s work in overcoming discrimination
Most people that go through the exercise show significant change in their attitudes. They get a chance to feel first hand how it feels to be discriminated based on something meaningless.
This can help them be more aware of the attitudes they might have.
This experiment helped the students gain perspective of what it must be like for the people that face discrimination every day and do not have the liberty to change their god-given attributes and escape their predicament.
I highly recommend that you watch it.
Annihilation of caste
Mr. B.R. Ambedkar was the architect of the constitution of India. He wrote a speech voicing his argument for the abolition of the caste system in India. This speech was titled ‘Annihilation of Caste‘.
Interestingly the speech was never delivered. The organizers felt it was objectionable to the Hindu orthodoxy and thus they requested Mr. Ambedkar to remove large sections of his speech.
Mr. Ambedkar, a man of principle declared that he would not change a comma of his text and later on published 1500 copies of it on his own expense. You may read the entire speech here.
The views he expressed then hit hard even to this day and demonstrate how exemplary his character was.
Views in the speech included but weren’t limited to-
- Removing the entire caste system rather than just eliminating sub- casts, that was the view at the time. He said that eliminating sub-casts would only strengthen the caste system.
- Hindus recognize caste not because they are immoral and inhuman. They observe Caste because they are religious.
Thus, the religion that teaches the notion of caste, is wrong. Rather than just focussing on removing caste, we should instead work towards abolishing the Shastras that teach people the religion-of-caste.
- Inter-marriage will serve as a real remedy for breaking the Caste system.
- Organizing inter-caste dinners or marriages are artificial means. Once we cleanse the minds of people founded on pernicious notions in Shastras people will marry and dine with each other on their own.
Such views that seem completely normal today were radical for the people in leading positions at the time.
There is still significant discrimination in rural and even some urban parts of the country.
Even educated people do not share their utensils with lower caste people saying that it might make the utensils impure.
A general belief is that the deeds of past life are the reason a person is born as a Dalit or Shudra and thus deserves an unfair treatment(an example of Just World Theory).
In some parts of India young girls called Devdasi are made prostitutes for the upper-caste people at the age of 12.
Overcoming discrimination through equality
When a group enjoys privileges for a long time, they become accustomed to them as rights.
However, when a group that was once discriminated against or treated unfairly before is given incentives to catch up it feels like unfair treatment to the privileged.
If we have to take steps against inequality in society these are the most important steps that a government can take in overcoming discrimination and to bring forward groups that have been denied equal opportunity.
We must not only look at our own biases but also try to be empathetic towards other people that face discrimination in society.
The Golden rule- Do onto others, as you want them to do to you. Something everyone knows yet is very hard to practice.
In conclusion, Overcoming discrimination
If we can all work together, we can bring a society that values collaboration between our species.
By looking at our differences as unique assets instead of conflicting liabilities, we build bridges between communities and rise against the authoritarian leaders that have played class divide now for generations and be successful in overcoming discrimination.
We urge you to explore what your callings are. Do you possess the courage to chase them? We provide a free ebook called The perfect beginning that might help you in finding those callings.
That is all for this week. I hope you have a good day and a good life.