The word discrimination is commonly used to describe to the unfair treatment of a group. Discrimination of this kind is in direct conflict with the equality that is realized in the laws of the United States and the ideals that Americans have claimed as national values. Both court cases and antidiscrimination laws have been used to end discrimination based on race, religion, gender, and disability in a number of areas. Discrimination of any kind is deeply hurtful to the individuals affected.
It can also be costly and destructive to entire communities and, by extension, to society as a whole.Racism dates back to the beginning of human existence, when small, isolated communities feared those who looked different or practiced different customs. Among the first civilizations, economic success and technological prowess incited a sense of superiority and the characterization of other population groups as “savage” or in some way inferior. The Roman Empire’s active expansion over the rest of Europe, for example, involved subjugation of fierce, war-ready Germanic tribes that it deemed “barbarians.” The ancient Greeks also harbored negative stereotypes of foreign peoples, such as the Persians. Since the 1990s there have been increased concerns about the rise of racial profiling, which is a form of what economists call “statistical discrimination.
” Racial profiling involves treating an individual on the basis of group statistics or stereotypes rather than on specific knowledge about that individual. Numerous studies in the 1990s and early 2000s showed that law enforcement officials tend to stop African American or Hispanic drivers, without any suspicion of criminal activity, more often than they stop white drivers. The reasoning behind such action is that statistically, non whites commit many more crimes in proportion to their numbers than whites do. The argument against such action is that it is fundamentally unfair and violates the civil rights of minorities .Probably the most visible form of discrimination, both in the United States and internationally, is racism–unfair treatment based on an individual’s race. From conflicts over slavery before the Civil War to recent charges of racial profiling, race continues to be a divisive and highly charged issue in American life.Racial discrimination also remains a pressing problem in other parts of the world. For example, North Africans living in France often face difficulties, and in Australia, the Aborigines have long been subject to harsh and demeaning treatment.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of racial discrimination in the world is the apartheid system that existed for more than forty-five years in South Africa. Apartheid strictly separated whites from nonwhites and denied nonwhites such basic rights as property and freedom of movement. The South African government was forced to abandon this racist policy in 1994. Seven years later, the nation hosted the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, which called on all U.
N. member states to take action against racism and discrimination. The United States now finds itself in an era of race relations more complex than in the days of legal segregation. Bigotry then was blatant, so entrenched that it could be shattered ultimately only by the conscience of the country and the hammer of the law.
Today, when explicit discrimination is prohibited and blatant racism is no longer fashionable in most circles, much prejudice has gone underground. It may have diminished in some quarters, but it is far from extinct. Like a virus searching for a congenial host, it mutates until it finds expression in a belief, a statement, or a form of behavior that seems acceptable.Discrimination and its self-fulfilling prophecy play a major role in the maintenance of prejudice and inequality.
First, it causes society to play the “blame game”. The victims of discrimination blame those who act in discriminatory ways. In turn, those with prejudice blame the out-group for putting themselves into their own predicament, and harbor resentment against them for pointing fingers.
Most often, neither group is willing to cooperate or see from the other’s perspective, and the reality of the situation is ignored. The result of all of this is the perpetuation of stereotypes, which provide a backbone for discriminatory practices. Whether intentional or not, prejudice and discrimination ensure the continuance of inequality in the United States. Even subconsciously, we are furthering inequality through our actions and reactions with others. Our feelings, or prejudices, influence our actions, or discriminations.
Because these forces are universally present in our daily lives, the way we use them or reject them will determine how they affect us.