Stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination are all related. However, they are all capable of standing on their own. At the base of it all, nevertheless, there is customarily a negative convolution and attitude, particularly to targets of stereotype, prejudice and discrimination. Although different, the three are mistakenly used interchangeably in everyday conversation, and sometimes writing, pointing to the fact that they are indeed related. To understand stereotype, prejudice and discrimination better, it is best to put the three concepts into theoretical contexts. As one of the theories, scapegoating is the act of throwing blame and punishment to a person or group for any negative outcomes, which are chiefly due to other phenomenon. With the little power they hold, scapegoats become targets of blame and venting for people’s own woes. There are dangers to the three concepts, however. In combination, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination breed fear, bigotry and resentment. This is in addition to animosity, irrational behavior, and ethnic conflict and sometimes cleansing. In their eventuality, stereotypes become generators of egotistic attitudes including non-caring for other people’s suffering. It is nevertheless possible to put measures to mitigate the effects. Information on the stereotyped group, change of perception and direct contact with the stereotyped group can help change the perception of people. This paper will look at stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination; their definition and models used to explain the concepts; the dangers posed by the concepts and strategies that can be used to deal with stereotype, prejudice and discrimination.
Oft times, stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination go hand in hand, with one ultimately culminating to another. However, there is the possibility of each existing on its own without the presence of the others. At the base of it all, nevertheless, there is customarily a negative convolution and attitude, particularly to targets of stereotype, prejudice and discrimination. Although different, the three are mistakenly used interchangeably in everyday conversation, and sometimes writing, pointing to the fact that they are indeed related (Romero, Gonzalez & Smith, 2015; Schmalz&Mowatt, 2014). The contemporary world draws people from different backgrounds to a common place in the work environment. Over the last few decades, this has especially become possible through globalization, bringing cultural diversity to not only the workplace, but within the general population of different countries (Burkley et al., 2013). These changes in their most innocent sense help in the improvement of ethnic diversity, creativity and problem solving, in addition to enabling multiple viewpoints on any decision (Bijlstra et al., 2014; Cunningham, 2013; Greijdanus et al., 2014). However, even with the perceived advantages that globalization and cultural diversity bring to countries and the workplace, the flipside of it is that such situations become the breeding ground for stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. Cultural diversity may not necessarily support attraction and liking among members of the diverse cultural groupings. Stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination are bound to occur under such circumstances, especially against minority groups within such social organization. The extremities occur when members dislike each other so much, that they engage in aggressive behavior against one another, with the minority groups mostly at a disadvantage. In looking at the three aspects, this paper will define the key terms (stereotype, prejudice and discrimination); explore theories explaining the three phenomena, look at the reasons and sources of the three as well as the role they play in society. Finally, the paper will also look at some possible strategies of dealing with the negative aspects of the three concepts.
Definition of Key Terms
Stereotype, prejudice and discrimination are terms often used synonymously in everyday conversation. The phenomenon is perhaps attributed to the related nature of the three concepts, particularly their negative connotation towards the targets of each of the concepts. It is for this reason that social scientists prefer the definition of the concepts, to provide the distinction among them, and clearly define the parameters within which each of the concepts operate. Through the definitions, it is possible to point out the concept at play, and therefore safely navigate the pitfall of interchanging one concept for another when it occurs. Defining stereotype remains problematic given the lack of consensus on a universal definition (Duquid& Thomas-Hunt, 2015; Nelson, 2013). However, each of the dozens of definitions have base on the general idea of the concept as “knowledge structure that serve as mental ‘pictures’ of the groups in question” (Nelson, 2013, p. 2). The image in this case, is usually oversimplified, and used to generalize the group in question, often becoming fixed and longstanding. Conclusively, therefore, Nelson (2013) provides an encompassing definition of stereotype as representing “the traits that we view as characteristic of social groups, or of individual members of those groups, and particularly those that differentiate groups from each other. In short, they are the traits that come to mind quickly when we think about the groups” (p. 2). Important to note is the fact that stereotypes, while being overgeneralized, are often resistant to change even in the face of new information about the group in question (Cadinu, Latrofa&Carnaghi, 2013). The already overgeneralized concept of the group, therefore, remains intact despite new information that debunks the previously held opinion (Cadinu, Latrofa&Carnaghi, 2013; Maris, Van Damme&Hoorens, 2016).
On the other hand, there is a straightforward universally accepted definition of prejudice. In its simplest form, prejudice is the unwarranted negative attitude towards a group or individual members of the group (Nelson, 2013). Similarly, Schmalz and Mowatt (2014) define prejudice as the negative attitude towards a group or members of the group. This shows consensus in the definition of the term. Schmalz and Mowatt (2014) contend that explicit prejudice no longer exists, principally after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. They, however, inform that prejudice exists in subtle forms, veiled under socially acceptable pretenses, a situation known as attributional ambiguity (Schmalz&Mowatt, 2014). The idea here is the rationalization of prejudice through provision of excuse justifying the prejudicial actions.
Like stereotype, discrimination has a wide range of definitions, making choosing a single universally accepted definition difficult. Any singular choice of the different definitions of discrimination has both methodical and theoretical implications. In the general view, however, discrimination is an action that precludes an individual or group based on some pre-identified or perceived characteristic. In the definition of the concept of discrimination, two sets of broad forms of the concept exist: intentional discrimination and disparate impact. This way, discrimination stands apart from other related concepts such as stereotype and prejudice, given that while the concepts describe attitudes or beliefs, discrimination is evident in a set of behaviors against the target individual or group. On discrimination, Romero, Gonzalez and Smith (2015), define it as the unjustified repulsive behavior towards a group or its members. The behavior in this case includes both actions and decisions negatively targeting the discriminated group (Keane, 2014). Important to note is that discrimination comes in different forms, and is dependent on the target of the discriminated individual or group. Thus, age, sex, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation among others characteristics describe the different forms of discrimination, wherein the discriminative behavior is targeted towards the specific traits deemed undesirable.
Theories and Models
To understand stereotype, prejudice and discrimination better, it is best to put the three concepts into theoretical contexts. Social scientists have fronted different theories, which help in contextualization of the concepts: specifically, the reason they occur and their effect in the society. One of the theories that explain the three concepts is the scapegoat theory, which suggests blaming others for a current situation, especially in cases where the scapegoats are the disadvantaged group. Rothschild et al. (2014) contend that scapegoating is the act of throwing blame and punishment to a person or group for any negative outcomes, which are chiefly due to other phenomenon. With the little power they hold, scapegoats become targets of blame and venting for people’s own woes (Rothschild et al., 2014).
The authoritarian personality theory also explains the three concepts, especially prejudicial tendencies in some individuals. According to this theory, there are individuals born with such a personality. The belief of such people is that society is both competitive and hierarchical, with some superior beings (themselves) dominating others that are weak. Such people therefore prey on those they consider weak or inferior, stereotyping, prejudicing and discriminating against them (Nelson, 2013). Related to this is the conflict theory, wherein the authoritarian individuals use their position to justify their oppression of the weak, while minorities use a claim of their being victims to demand special treatment.
Culture theory on the other hand contends that the three concepts are inculcated into individuals within their culture. Herein, stereotype, prejudice and discrimination are characteristic of some people, and it is given that some of these are present in everyone as it is embedded within the culture of the said people (Nelson, 2013). For a long time, for example, different Caucasian cultures believed in their superiority (perhaps even in present times) in comparison to the colored, and would pass this down to their progeny. Their children therefore grow believing in this. It is perhaps this feeling of superiority that outlawed mix race marriages in America (until it was later revoked); and even today, while it is commonplace, many, especially Caucasians, still frown upon such marriages.
Stereotype, prejudice and discrimination, therefore, form part of the culture within which people grow in. Through socialization, parents pass these concepts to their children, who then pass the same to their children and the cycle continues (Nelson, 2013). In today technologically advanced world, the media, inclusive of television, movies and advertising continually propagate the disparaging images and stereotypes associated with some groups (Holt, 2013). Most movies show a disproportionate amount of Blacks and Hispanics as belonging to gangs and other criminal activities. On the other hand, the same movies paint Caucasians as disproportionately successful and often victims of Black and Hispanic illegal activities (Cundiff et al., 2013). These enhance the stereotypes, which then develop into prejudices and eventually lead to the discrimination of such groups. Social media has additionally become a tool for perpetuating these concepts through comments and images posted on the social platforms, which then enhance the stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination (Cundiff et al., 2013; Romero, Gonzalez & Smith, 2015; Schmalz&Mowatt, 2014).
Stereotyping, prejudicial and discriminatory behavior sometimes, however, is a form conformity, especially when such conformity has social and economic benefits attached to it (Holt, 2013). The rejection of such behavior may be catastrophic to the individual in terms of losing the requisite support from significant others. Moreover, some cultures practice ethnocentrism, and are therefore, suspicious of outsiders (Nelson, 2013). The Amish, for instance, are apprehensive of outsiders and keep to themselves, seeing others and the technology they use as harmful to them and the environment. They therefore avoid “contamination” by keeping off non-Amish.
Reasons for Stereotyping, Prejudicing and Discriminating
In large part, the measurement of stereotype, prejudice and discrimination is on the behavior and reports given by victims of these concepts (Duquid& Thomas-Hunt, 2015; Nelson, 2013). Even in the reporting, nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that as humans the formation of categories is part of the distinctive feature of human thought. It is through such categorization that humans are capable of understanding the world wherein they live. Categorization as a feature of human thought enables us to classify experiences, and in classifying the experiences behave in a specific pattern. The classification additionally enables humans to respond appropriately to new circumstances. Of importance, nonetheless, is that stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory tendencies oftentimes have little, if any, to do with the previous experiences and knowledge.
Stereotype, prejudice and discrimination are often products of ignorance and selfishness (Romero, Gonzalez, & Smith, 2014). Most perpetrators of these acts are ignorant of the targets of their attitudes and behavior, and many times, such people do not stop to think how their attitude and behavior affect the other party. By targeting the minorities, the perpetrators feel good about themselves without the care of the effects of their actions. It is perhaps this ignorance and the lack of acceptance of uniqueness of individuals that leads most of the perpetrators to ignore instances in which individuals disconfirm their stereotypes as atypical of the said group. They view such circumstances as abnormalities, and tend to look for justification for such “abnormal” behavior.
Ignorance alone does not explain the reason behind stereotyping, prejudicing and discriminating. According to Romero et al. (2014), the three behaviors sometimes occur in the absence of enough information required for making a comprehensive and sound judgment about a person or situation. The absence of the comprehensive information consequently leads to filling in the missing information with stereotypes (Beeghly, 2015; Romero et al., 2014). Many times, the society creates stereotypes in this manner without the slightest of bad intentions. However, the eventual reaction is usually unfair prejudice and discrimination, especially in instances when the stereotyped individual is unfavorable.
Often, stereotypes, apart from being passed down within a social category, are formed due to lack of enough information. Yet from the stereotypes, it is possible to develop prejudice and eventually discrimination. The genesis of stereotyping and prejudice is the normal human process of categorization. It is completely normal for humans to form mental categorize of people and things; this helps in thinking and placement of things. Nevertheless, this categorization spurs stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. The process is entirely normal and automated, yet very catastrophic if unchecked (Beeghly, 2015). It is through categorization that humans gain an understanding of the world around them. However, when we cannot make sense out of an individual, group or situation, we fill in the gaps with previously gained information, and when this is impossible, we form our own fillers, which then establish stereotypes and prejudices.
Dangers Posed by Stereotyping, Prejudicing and Discrimination
While they may start as fillers to information gaps on individuals or a group, the three concepts eventually develop into deadly attitudes and behavior that have grave repercussions (Legault, Green-Demers &Eadie, 2014). One of the dangers of stereotype is their effect on history, wherein it distorts it by oversimplifying it. In combination, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination breed fear, bigotry and resentment (Siy&Cheryan, 2016). This is in addition to animosity, irrational behavior, and ethnic conflict and sometimes cleansing. In their eventuality, stereotypes become generators of egotistic attitudes including non-caring for other people’s suffering (Beeghly, 2015; Plous, 2013). Under extreme circumstances, however, stereotypes and prejudices have led to mass violence, refugee status, ethnic cleansing and genocide as was experienced in Rwanda.
The activation of stereotypes has a profound effect on social perception and behavior. Most negative stereotypes often change to prejudice and eventually discrimination. Legault, Green-Demers &Eadie (2014) and Plous (2013) argue that with a negative perception, say of the Blacks, as propagated by the media, the majority of Caucasians prejudice against the Blacks, a fact that leads to the Blacks’ discrimination in workplaces. Moreover, the perception of Blacks as violent and predominantly criminal leads to the fear of Blacks, so much that they are not seen as victims in case of crime perpetrated against them, but as perpetrators of the crime (Plous, 2013).
Yet another danger and consequence of stereotyping is the change of behavior to conform to the stereotype (Legault, Green-Demers &Eadie, 2014; Siy&Cheryan, 2016). Plous (2013) informs, “studies have found that when college students are exposed to stereotypic words and images relating to oldage, they later walk more slowly and perform more slowly on a word recognition task” (p. 23). Further, a show of condescending behavior and attitude towards particular individuals or groups may eventually spur the action of such a group or individual to conform to the expected behavior. These include acts of violence, a show of less intelligence among other behavior, to conform to the stereotypes and prejudices labeled on such individuals or groups.
Strategies for dealing with Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination
Perhaps one of the most difficult things to erase is stereotypes. Once established, stereotypes and prejudice take a life of their own, and continue to flourish even in the presence of evidence pointing to truths contrary to information held (Cundiff&Vescio, 2016). Although difficult, it is possible to change people’s perception about an individual or group. The first of the strategies involves direct contradiction of the stereotypes. It is possible to do this on the media and through education. Specifically, direct interaction with the individual or group can go a long way in debunking the myths and misconceptions held about the individual or group (Cundiff&Vescio, 2016; Nelson, 2013; Plous, 2013). Through the contact, people learn of their common interests, experiences and beliefs, and in a way help in dissolving the stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination.
Part of the condition that breeds stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination is lack of information about the individual or group (Maris, Van Damme&Hoorens, 2016). Here, education has the opportunity to change this by teaching on different cultures. Additionally, education can provide opportunities for inter-cultural interactions, a step that helps fill in the gaps that breed stereotypes (Nelson, 2013; Plous, 2013). Although changing the attitude is an individual decision, education can ease this process by giving individuals the tools (information) necessary for making the requisite changes.
It is also possible to pass laws and regulations outlawing acts of stereotype, prejudice and discrimination. Organizations can also formulate policies that ban such attitudes and behavior. In the U.S. constitution, the Equal Opportunities Act and the No Child Left Behind Act are some of the laws passed to ensure equal treatment of all citizens in the working place, public service and the within education institutions. Moreover, the U.S. government provides incentives to companies that show milestones in inclusion and diversity. By so doing, the government hopes to kill the negative attitude and behavior, as it promotes universal inclusion within the different ranks of public and private sectors.
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