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Social Sci LibreTexts

3.4: Discrimination

  • Page ID
    14511
  • Learning Objectives

    1. Discuss Merton’s views on whether prejudice and discrimination always coincide.
    2. Distinguish between individual discrimination and institutional discrimination.
    3. Provide two examples of institutional discrimination.

    Often racial and ethnic prejudice lead to discrimination against the subordinate racial and ethnic groups in a given society. Discrimination in this context refers to the arbitrary denial of rights, privileges, and opportunities to members of these groups. The use of the word arbitrary emphasizes that these groups are being treated unequally not because of their lack of merit but because of their race and ethnicity.

    Usually prejudice and discrimination go hand-in-hand, but Robert Merton (1949) stressed this is not always so. Sometimes we can be prejudiced and not discriminate, and sometimes we might not be prejudiced and still discriminate. Table 3.1 “The Relationship between Prejudice and Discrimination” illustrates his perspective. The top-left cell and bottom-right cell consist of people who behave in ways we would normally expect. The top-left one consists of “active bigots,” in Merton’s terminology, people who are both prejudiced and discriminatory. An example of such a person is the white owner of an apartment building who dislikes people of color and refuses to rent to them. The bottom-right cell consists of “all-weather liberals,” as Merton called them, people who are neither prejudiced nor discriminatory. An example would be someone who holds no stereotypes about the various racial and ethnic groups and treats everyone the same regardless of her or his background.

    Table 3.1 The Relationship between Prejudice and Discrimination

    Prejudiced?
    Yes No
    Discriminates?
    Yes Active bigots Fair-weather liberals
    No Timid bigots All-weather liberals

    Source: Adapted from Merton, R. K. (1949). Discrimination and the American creed. In R. M. MacIver (Ed.), Discrimination and national welfare (pp. 99–126). New York, NY: Institute for Religious Studies.