In the modern world, there is a direct link between prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is defined as the unjustified negative attitudes that some people hold against others of a certain group of people. Prejudice can include attitudes such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious persecution. Prejudices are pre-formed and have no reasonable basis. Discrimination includes all of the actions that people take against others they have prejudices toward. The segregation of blacks and whites during the American Civil Rights Movement is an example of discrimination. A modern example of discrimination might occur if a male employer were to pay a female employee lower wages due to his own sexism. However, discrimination can also consist of more subtle, passive-aggressive behavior, such as dirty looks, or refusing to patronize a business because the owners or managers are of a certain race, gender, or religion.
There is a self-fulfilling prophecy involved with prejudice and discrimination as well. Those who have been discriminated against begin to expect those around them to be prejudiced. This leads to defensive behavior, further fueling the tension between the in-group and the out-group. Furthermore, members of the in-group then feel justified in their beliefs, because those in the out-group are acting accordingly with the in-group’s preconceived impressions.
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.
Take for example the uproar caused by the re-election of President Obama for his second term as President. After his re-election, some states began threatening to secede from the United States for completely asinine reasons; claiming that a black man could not run a country, or that Obama wasn’t truly a US-born citizen. These opinions, which have evidence that prove the contrary, are rooted in racism. In this case, the racism was the prejudice, and the threat to secede was the discrimination. The self-fulfilling prophecy comes into play in several ways. Obama supporters might say that the secessionist states are acting in a typical racist way. Their opposition could respond by saying Obama supporters only support him because of his race. Both of these stigmas have been reinforced, and the conflict continues on.
Another issue which examines many aspects of inequality is the controversy over affirmative action plans in colleges and workplaces. Affirmative action committees were formed in order to provide equal opportunities to minorities, so that every school or professional organization would include a certain quota of people from all races and ethnicities. These programs protect individuals of minority race, religion, gender, and sex. However, some argue that because these programs are focused on socioeconomic factors instead of on individual merit, they are inherently unfair because they are disadvantageous to the majority population, and it is sometimes referred to as “reverse discrimination”. Here, the prejudice stems from good intentions for bettering the life of minorities. The discrimination is the exclusion of the majority population. The self-fulfilling prophecy might hold that the majority population, by opposing affirmative action, is practicing the very oppression that these programs were originally designed to deter. Therefore, the need for these programs seems to be reinforced.
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.