Essay on the Main Problems of Minorities

The Phenomenon of Prejudice:

Prejudice refers to a “pre-judged” attitude towards members of another group. These groups are regarded with hostility simply because they belong to a particular group, and they are assumed to have the undesirable qualities that are supposed to be characteristic of the group as a whole.

False definitions of individuals and groups are perpetuated by prejudice. Prejudice is a negative attitude towards a category of people often an ethnic or racial community. It is a judgement based on group membership or racial status.” [Wallace and Wallace].

Prejudice implies a negative or an unfavourable attitude:

Prejudice, in normal usage means preconceived opinion or bias against or in favour of a person or thing. Biases could be positive as well as negative. But the term ‘prejudice’ most commonly refers to a negative or unfavourable attitude towards a group or its individual members. Prejudice is characterised by stereotyped be­liefs that are not tested against reality, but rather have to do with a person’s own feelings and attitudes.

As Gordon Allport writes in his classic book “The Nature of Prejudice” – (1954) – “prejudice is an antipathy based upon a faulty and inflexible generalisation. Prejudice may be felt or expressed. It may be directed towards a group as a whole, or towards an individual member of that group. Some people are more prone to have prejudiced outlooks than others.

Prejudice Violates social norms and sense of justice:

Sociological definitions of the term tend to stipulate that prejudice violates some social norms such as rationality, justice, or tolerance. It violates rational thought. As far as its net effect is concerned, – it places the individual or group at some disadvantage that is not merited. Prejudice is inherently unjust. It involves intolerance and even the violation of human dignity.

Prejudice works on the “In-group and out-group “principle:

Prejudice is both a consequence of and reinforcement for the existence of in-groups and out-groups, which embody the distinction between ‘them’ and ‘us’. In-group and out-group attitudes are intrinsically related, because in-group feeling results in out-group sentiment, and vice versa.

It could almost be claimed that one side derives its identity from the fact of its opposition to the other. In this sense, the out-group is necessary for the cohesion and emotional security of the in-group, and an out-group might need to be invented, if one does not already exist.

“Prejudice, by magnifying the vices of the enemy, ensures that norms of justice and tolerance no longer apply. Prejudice does not always result in any hostile action, but when prejudice is made manifest it can range from (at minimum) avoidance or discrimination, through to mass extermina­tion, as in the Holocaust.”

Prejudice may lead to social oppression:

Sociologically speaking, the social consequences of prejudice focusing on race, or gender or on ethnic and other minorities are very significant. Technically, for example, any prejudice with a racial basis constitutes racism, just as any based on sex is sexism and any based on ethnicity is ethnicism.

This means that prejudice directed against men is sexist, just as the prejudice directed by the Blacks against the Whites is racist. One objection to this view is that the consequences of prejudice aimed at the minorities are very different from the prejudice aimed at the dominant groups by the minorities, usually in self-defence. The former supports and perpetuates social oppression.

The latter, however, has relatively trivial consequences for members of the dominant groups since they are unlikely even to be aware of them. Further, prejudice is sociologically important because it underlies discrimination, the unequal treatment of people who happen to belong to a particular group or category.

The Phenomenon of Discrimination and Its Consequences:

Discrimination refers to action against other people on the grounds of their group membership. It involves the refusal to grant members of another group the opportunities that would be granted to similarly qualified members of one’s own group.

i. “Discrimination involves treating someone differently because of his or her group membership or social status.

ii. “Discrimination refers to the “process by which a member, or members, of a socially defined group is, or are, treated differently, that is, unfairly, because of his/her/their membership of that group. A social group to be selected for less favourable treatment may be a racial group, ethnic group, gender group, or religious or linguistic group.

Minority Groups as the Target of Discrimination:

The essential feature of a minority group is that its members are subject to discrimination, or unequal treatment because of “bad” traits.

The Dominant Group Claiming Social Advantage at the Expense of the Minority Groups:

Discrimination takes place when the dominant group regards itself as entitled to social advantages and uses its power to secure those advantages at the expense of the minority groups. These advan­tages may be of many different kinds.

The dominant group may, for example, reserve positions of political power for itself; it may establish a claim over desirable residential areas; it may demand the exclusive use of certain recreational facilities and schools; it may claim right to high-status jobs. In extreme cases, it may even enforce the physical segregation of the minority group from the rest of society.

Prevalence of Discriminatory Practices:

Discriminatory practices often become embedded in society’s laws. A few years ago, for example, it was illegal in many southern states of USA for the Blacks to vote, to ride anywhere except in the rear of buses, or to eat in the same restaurants and use the same toilet facilities as the Whites. Discrimination has an informal side also.

This is also illus­trated by the traditional Southern USA, where it was expected that a Black person would step off and make the way for an approaching White. In fact, similar, and even more severe discriminatory prac­tices against the Blacks prevailed in South Africa during the British rule against which Mahatma Gandhiji waged a successful and an untiring non-violent battle.

Institutionalised Discrimination:

The concept of “institutionalised discrimination” reveals that “discrimination against some groups in a society can result from the majority simply adhering, unthinkingly to the existing organisational and institutional rules or norms” Institutionalised sexism and institutionalised racism are most common manifestations of this phenomenon.

Institutionalised discrimination invariably leads to unequal treatment. When unequal treatment takes the form of systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice, it becomes social oppression.

Institutionalised Discrimination Prevails in Many Areas of Society:

This could be observed in the United States where discrimination is still practised in their race relations. For example, informal barriers to residential integration have resulted in a pattern of urban racial segregation. As a result, the Whites and the Blacks tend to use segregated schools and other facilities.

Similarly, there is a long tendency towards discrimination in hiring practices, so that the Blacks have much higher unemployment rates and consistently earn less than the similarly qualified Whites.

The Blacks are underrepresented in all the high-status positions in society for example, in Congress, in the judiciary, or at the upper levels of military and corporate power. In the same way, there is institutionalized discrimination within the legal system: the Blacks are likely to receive more severe sentences than e Whites convicted of the same crimes.

Prejudice and Discrimination are interrelated:

Prejudice and discrimination are closely linked, but they may exist separately. Prejudice is a judgement whereas discrimination is the actual practice of treating people or groups unfairly.

A person may hold a prejudice without discriminating. He may, indeed, hold hundreds of prejudices against different groups but may not act upon them. Also, some people may discriminate without feeling any prejudice.

For example, a business person might refuse to serve people of a particular minority group on the grounds that serving them would cause other customers to stay away, although he does not feel prejudiced against the minority group. Four variations of these qualities have been suggested by Simpson and Yinger. They are stated below.

1. There can be prejudice without discrimination;

2. There can be discrimination without prejudice;

3. Prejudice can be among the causes of discrimination; and

4. Probably, most frequently, prejudice and discrimination are mutually reinforcing Robert K. Merton (1949) has introduced a typology consisting of four distinct persons am their characteristic responses relating to prejudice and discrimination. The typology is stated be low.

1. The Unprejudiced Nondiscriminator:

Some do not have any prejudice and do not engage ii discriminatory practices. The unprejudiced nondiscriminator adheres to the ideal of equality ii both theory and practice. Such a person is not prejudiced and does not discriminate against others on racial or ethnic grounds.

2. The Unprejudiced Discriminator:

Some may indulge in discriminatory practices but may m have prejudices. The unprejudiced discriminator has not personal prejudices, but may discriminate when it is convenient to do so. For example, an employer may have no person hostility towards members of another group, but may not hire their services for fear of offending customers.

3. The Prejudiced Non-discriminator:

Some may have prejudice but may not practice discrimination. The prejudiced non-discriminator is a “timid” person who is prejudiced against other groups but does not have the courage to translate attitudes into action.

4. The Prejudiced Discriminator does not genuinely believe in the values of freedom or equality and discriminates on the basis of prejudiced attitudes.