Essay on the Causes and Consequences of Prejudice and Discrimination

Learnt Behaviour:

As the psychologist Gordon Allport has pointed out both prejudice and discrimination an learnt. Attitudes are taught to children by adults and peers through direct statements [Example Don’t play with unclean caste people.] and indirect messages

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Example:

“Thank God, no Black k becomes so far the president of USA. Children receive hints or clues from such statements and message. Their mind become conditioned. Unknowingly, they start disliking or hating or keeping themselves away from such people.

Stereotype:

The culture of a group defines whom to hate and why hate them. Sometimes, it may eve describe the minority members in terms of a stereotype.

i. “A stereotype is a rigid, over simplified, often exaggerated belief that is applied both to an entire category of people and to each individual within it.”

ii. “A stereotype is an exaggerated belief associated with a category.”

The main function of a stereotype is to justify or rationalise one’s conduct in relation to that category.

Examples:

(i) The belief that people who depend upon public assistance are lazy — is a stereotype,

(ii) The belief that man cannot take care of children like women — is also stereotype.

(iii) In America, the Blacks have been stereotyped as lazy, superstitious, ignorant, musical and happy-go-lucky,

(iv) Jews have been depicted as clannish, financially shrewd and pushy,

(v) In India, the Hindus are often stereotyped as cowards, the Muslims as fanatics, Christians as con­verters, and so on.

Stereotypes of racial, social class, caste, religious and gender groups are commonly held and they often lead to the treatment of individuals according to unjustified preconceptions. Stereotypes are important because they form the basis of prejudice which in turn, is used to justify discrimination and both positive and negative attitudes.

Though stereotypes can be positive also, their negative aspect is more often stressed. Stereotypes are regarded as undesirable because of the prominent role they play in social oppression based on characteristics such as race, gender, ethnicity, etc.

Like ethnocentrism, stereotyped thinking is an almost unavoidable feature of social life. The essence of the prejudiced thinking is that the stereotype is not checked against reality.

It is not modified by experiences that contradict the rigid image. If a prejudiced person finds that an indi­vidual member of a group does not conform to the stereotype for the group as a whole, this evi­dence is simply taken as “the exception that proves the race” and not as grounds for questioning the original belief.

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Because of continuous contact, intergroup relations assume a particular pattern. They get estab­lished to become a part of culture. When they become a part of culture, attitudes relating to these intergroup relations are taught to younger generation through socialisation.

Thus, an individual’s degree of tolerance or intolerance is at first usually a reflection of the culture and of socialisation, ‘”here intergroup relations are strained and unequal, prejudice and discriminatory behaviour will ‘robably exist. As the culture changes, individual attitudes change as well.

4. Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:

Prejudice and discrimination are often reinforced by what Robert K Merton has called the, “self-fulfilling prophecy” (1968). For example, the Blacks in North America were initially defined by the slave traders as sub-human and not capable of any high achievement. This assumption became a kind of prophecy.

For more than three centuries, the policy of discrimination continued in America under the pretext of this policy. As a result, only a few Blacks in America have attained high posi­tions. The original prophecy is thus fulfilled by its own consequences: The Whites were continuously told that the Blacks were inferior and hence they were treated as such. It often happens, too, that the minority group [Blacks in the cited example,] shares the beliefs that the dominant group [the whites] holds about them for it is quite common for an oppressed group to accept the ideology that justifies their oppression.

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Psychologists have attempted to determine whether certain types of people are more likely to be prejudiced than others. Theodore Adorno and his co-workers [1950] developed a model of a prejudiced individual which they call the “authoritarian personality”. Adorno was among the first to suggest a link between an “authoritarian personality” and prejudicial attitude.

Adorno concluded that some people have a distinct set of personality traits which together make up what he called the authoritarian personality. People who have this personality pattern are intolerant, insecure, highly conformist, submissive to superiors, and bullying to inferiors.

They tend to have anti-intellectual and antiscientific attitudes; they are disturbed by any ambiguity in sexual or religious affairs; and they see the world in very rigid and stereotyped terms. The authoritarian per­sonality, Adorno claimed, was primarily a product of a family environment in which the parents were cold, aloof, disciplinarian, and themselves bigoted.

People who are prejudiced against one group tend to be prejudiced against others as well; [Hartley -1946]. When surveyed, many prejudiced persons even indicated prejudice against ficti­tious minority groups [which were mixed in with the real ones] and endorsed expulsion from the United States of such non-existent minority groups as the Danireans, Wallonians and Pirenem;

These three so called human groups do not exist, and never existed in the past. Their names were concocted by Hartley to see if people who were prejudiced against existing groups would also be prejudiced against groups they could never have met or even heard of. His study suggests that preju­dice is learnt not through contact with the groups against whom prejudice is directed but through contact with other prejudiced people.

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“A scapegoat is an individual, group, or category of people used as an object of blame in social system”

Scapegoating typically occurs when the members of one group feel threatened but are unable to retaliate against the real source of the threat. Scapegoating provides a mechanism for venting rage, frustration, resentment, fear and other emotions. It is a mechanism for placing or putting the blame for one’s troubles on some individual or group incapable of offering resistance.

Hence, in scapegoating, people vent their frustrations on some weak and despised group. Immigrants and minorities are often used as scapegoats during the times of economic hardship and blamed as the cause of unemployment and other social problems.

For example, the low-status White may resent their low-social and economic status, but they cannot strike at the source of the problem – the ’employer’ or the “system”.

Instead, they direct their hostility at the members of minority group normally, the Blacks, whom they believe to be competing for jobs at the same level. The best example of the scapegoating group was the Jews of Nazi Germany. The Jews in Germany were conveniently blamed for Germany’s economic hardships after World War I.