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Prejudice and Discrimination

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    Cultural intolerance may arise when individuals or groups confront new or differing values, beliefs, norms, expressive symbols, practices, or artifacts. Think about a time when you came across someone who did not fit the cultural “norm” either expressively or behaviorally. How did the person’s presence make you feel? What type of thoughts ran through your head? Were you compelled to understand the differences between you and the other person or were you eager to dismiss, confront, or ignore the other person?

    Living in a culturally diverse society requires us to tackle our anxiety of the unknown or unfamiliar. The discomfort or cognitive dissonance we feel when we are around others who live and think differently than ourselves makes us alter our thoughts and behaviors towards acceptance or rejection of the “different” person in order to restore cognitive balance (Festinger 1957). When people undergo culture shock or surprise from experiencing new culture, their minds undergo dissonance. Similar to a fight or flight response, we choose to learn and understand cultural differences or mock and run away from them.

    People have a tendency to judge and evaluate each other on a daily basis. Assessing other people and our surroundings is necessary for interpreting and interacting in the social world. Problems arise when we judge others using our own cultural standards. We call the practice of judging others through our own cultural lens, ethnocentrism. This practice is a cultural universal. People everywhere think their culture is true, moral, proper, and right (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). By its very definition, ethnocentrism creates division and conflict between social groups whereby mediating differences is challenging when everyone believes they are culturally superior and their culture should be the standard for living.

    Figure 1.jpg
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Man with Gray Wash in Full Face Tattoo. (CC BY 4.0; vjapratama).

    In contrast, cultural relativism insinuates judging a culture by the standards of another is objectionable. It seems reasonable to evaluate a person’s values, beliefs, and practices from their own cultural standards rather than judged against the criteria of another (Kottak and Kozaitis 2012). Learning to receive cultural differences from a place of empathy and understanding serves as a foundation for living together despite variances. Like many aspects of human civilization, culture is not absolute but relative suggesting values, beliefs, and practices are only standards of living as long as people accept and live by them (Boas 1887). Developing knowledge about cultures and cultural groups different from our own allows us to view and evaluate others from their cultural lens.

    Sometimes people act on ethnocentric thinking and feel justified disregarding cultural relativism. Overcoming negative attitudes about people who are culturally different from us is challenging when we believe our culture and thinking are justified. Consider the social issue of infanticide or the killing of unwanted children after birth. The historical practice occurred in times of famine or hardship when resources were scarce to keep non-productive humans alive. Many people find infanticide a human rights violation regardless of a person’s cultural traditions and beliefs and think the practice should stop. People often feel justified condemning the practice of infanticide and the people who believe and practice the tradition.

    Stereotypes are oversimplified ideas about groups of people (Griffiths et al. 2015). Prejudice is an attitude of thoughts and feelings directed at someone from prejudging or making negative assumptions. Negative attitudes about another’s culture is a form of prejudice or bias. Prejudice is a learned behavior. Prejudicial attitudes can lead to discriminatory acts and behaviors. Discrimination is an action of unfair treatment against someone based on characteristics such as age, gender, race, religion, etc.


    Research YouTube user-created videos on privilege and life chances such as the following:

    Complete the Test Your Life Chances exercise and type a written response addressing the following questions:

    1. What life barriers or issues are you able to identify about yourself after completing the exercise?
    2. What life advantages or opportunities are you able to distinguish about yourself after completing the exercise?
    3. Were there any statements you found more difficult or easier to answer? Explain.
    4. Were there any life challenges or obstacles that you have faced missing in the exercise? If so, explain.
    5. Were there any life privileges you have experienced missing in the exercise? If so, explain.
    6. Did you ever answer untruthfully on any of the statements? If you are comfortable sharing, explain which one(s)? Why did you not answer truthfully?
    7. How do life’s barriers and opportunities influence people's lives? What connections do you see among upward mobility and life chances in regards to: disability, racial-ethnic identity, gender identity, language, sexuality, and social class?
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Day 173: Awareness of Privilege. Used with permission (CC BY-SA 4.0; Quinn Dombrowski).

    Thinking the practice of infanticide should stop and those who practice it malevolent is prejudicial. Trying to stop the practice with force is discriminatory. There are times in the case of human rights issues like this where the fine line between criticizing with action (ethnocentrism) and understanding with empathy (cultural relativism) are clear. However, knowing the appropriate context when to judge or be open-minded is not always evident. Do we allow men to treat women as subordinates if their religion or faith justifies it? Do we allow people to eat sea turtles or live octopus if it is a delicacy? Do we stop children who do not receive vaccinations from attending school? All of these issues stem from cultural differences and distinguishing the appropriate response is not always easy to identify.

    When social groups have or are in power, they have the ability to discriminate on a large scale. A dominant group or the ruling class impart their culture in society by passing laws and informally using the culture industry system or “market” to spread it. Access to these methods allows hegemonic groups to institutionalize discrimination. This results in unjust and unequal treatment of people by society and its institutions. Those who culturally align to the ruling class fare better than those who are different.


    PART 1

    Visual ethnography is a qualitative research method of photographic images with socio-cultural representations. The experience of producing and discussing visual images or texts develops ethnographic knowledge and provides sociological insight into how people live. In your home or the place you live, take one photo of the following:

    • The street you live on
    • Your home
    • Front door of your home
    • Your family
    • The living room
    • The ceiling
    • Your sofa or seating
    • Lamps or lighting
    • The stove
    • The kitchen sink
    • Your cutlery drawer
    • Pantry or where you store food
    • The toilet
    • The shower or bathing area
    • Your toothbrush
    • Your bedroom
    • Your wardrobe
    • Your shoes
    • Children’s toys (if applicable)
    • Children’s playground (if applicable)
    • Your pets
    • Your car or method of transportation

    PART 2

    1. Watch the video by Anna Rosling Ronnlund entitled See How the Rest of the World Lives, Organized by Income:
    2. Next visit the website Dollar Street:
    3. Once you have accessed the Dollar Street website, take the Quick Tour for a tutorial on how to use the site. If the Quick Tour does not appear when you click the site link, click the menu on the right-hand top corner and select Quick Guide, which will open the Quick Tour window.
    4. After completing the Quick Tour, access your visual ethnography photos and compare your photographs with other people throughout the world.
    5. For your analysis, in complete sentences explain the differences and similarities based on income and country. Specifically, describe what the poorest conditions are for each item as well as the richest conditions and what cultural similarities and/or differences exist in comparison to your items.

    This page titled Prejudice and Discrimination is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vera Kennedy.