Prejudice, Stereotypes, and Discrimination essay
The regulation of individuals’ social behavior is carried out through the system of individual attitudes. The forms of attitudes, stable and closed from the influence of new experience, are presented by stereotypes and prejudices. Their cognitive component contains distorted, irrational, absurd knowledge about objects that do not meet the changing reality. With respect to inanimate objects this refers, for example, to all sorts of superstitions, but in the social sphere, stereotypes and prejudices widely serve as the justification of racial, ethnic, class and economic differences. The significance of prejudices and stereotypes as an illusory, fantastic explanation of reality consists in the fact that they indirectly contribute to the preservation of social inequality and inhibit progressive change.
Prejudice and stereotypes as illusion
Stereotypes mean extremely stable and limited understanding of a social object or situation by which people are guided in their behavior without a second thought (Myers, 2012; Feenstra, 2013). A major role in the structure of a stereotype belongs to its emotional charge, which clearly indicates to what is acceptable and unacceptable in relation to any object. Thus, if an object of a stereotype is another person, the major features are often one’s gender, nationality, or profession, while other differences may be unduly ignored. According to Inzlicht and Schmader (2011), the specificity of this approach lies in the unconscious division of people into “us” and “them” with ingroup experiences perceived as idealized and endowed with pculiarities in a positive way (autostereotype), while outgroups are endowed with negative assessments (heterostereotype). As a result, stereotypes form a simplified and highly superficial understanding of the social reality phenomena.
In its turn, the concept of prejudice includes irrational components of social and individual consciousness, based on the inaccurate, distorted, stereotypized knowledge that was accepted uncritically, with the negative emotional manifestations becoming intense (Myers, 2012; Feenstra, 2013). A person with a prejudice may not like those who are different and discriminate against them by one’s actions. Thus, while prejudice is a negative attitude, discrimination is a negative behavior. In general, basing on Myers (2012) and Inzlicht and Schmader (2011) studies, negative assessments as a measure of prejudice may be linked to the emotional associations, need to justify one’s discriminatory behavior or stable negative beliefs, i.e. stereotypes.
Prejudices and stereotypes have several sources as they perform several functions. In particular, they can express a sense of one’s Self and the desire to seek affectation from the society; defend self-concept from anxiety caused by uncertainty about one’s own safety or internal conflict; as well as support group interests, values, and social status. Given the latter, in our opinion, one of the most important origins of prejudice and stereotypes is social inequality. It is difficult, for example, to disagree with Inzlicht and Schmader (2011) that stereotypical views about African Americans and women help to justify the lower social status of these groups. Indeed, prejudices basically help justify the economic and social superiority of those with wealth and power. Meanwhile, attitudes can easily match the social hierarchy not only because they justify it, but also because occurring discrimination affects those who become its victims, and so the social beliefs can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, as Myers (2012) and Feenstra (2013) argue.
In addition, identifying ourselves with certain groups, we include social identification into the personal one (i.e. a sense of personal qualities and attitudes). As Myers (2012) marks, categorizing people into groups, we thus contrast our group to other groups (“they”) with a clear predisposition and manifestation of favoritism for our own groups. As a result, a sense of belonging (“we”-feeling) increases our self-concept and helps to achieve inner peace. We are looking for not only self-esteem, but also opportunities to be proud of our group. Moreover, the fact that we perceive our groups as different in the better way from the others contributes to the situation where we also tend to see ourselves in a more attractive light (Myers, 2012; Feenstra, 2013). On this basis, stereotypes successfully fix in the public mind, and conformism here plays an important role. Indeed, the shaped prejudices are kept up mainly by inertia, as Feenstra (2013) reasonably notes. If a prejudice is accepted by the society, the majority will prefer to take the path of least and will promote stereotypes not so much because of the need to hate someone as because of the desire to be accepted and valued by this society.
In its essence, the underlying cause of stereotypes’ adoption is a non-developed cognitive component (Myers, 2012; Inzlicht & Schmader, 2011). In particular, explaining the actions of others, an individual often makes a fundamental attribution error: being inclined to attribute the behavior of people to their internal dispositions, one does not consider important situational forces (Feenstra, 2013). In addition, as Myers (2012) puts this, it is an attribution error that makes an individual biased in the interpretation of one’s own group members’ behavior as positive, whereas positive actions committed by the members of an out-group are usually not taken into account. In general, we sometimes make judgments or start communicating with someone having nothing but a stereotype at hand. In such cases, stereotypes and prejudice are able to fully deprive of objectivity and distort the interpretation and memories of people and environment.
The modern view of prejudice arising due to the recent studies leads us to an idea of how stereotypical thinking becomes a byproduct of information processing – a method individuals apply to simplify the perception of the world. However, the emergence of illusive relationships between the belonging to a certain social group and one’s behavior has both cognitive sources and cognitive consequences. Directing our interpretation and our memories, stereotypical thinking results in the fact that we find evidence in its favor, even where such evidence is not present at all. Therefore, stereotypes are resilient and difficult to modify. And yet, there are some reserve methods that can weaken them. Thus, if status inequality creates prejudice, the society should strive to create relationships where cooperation and social equality will dominate. In particular, if we know that some type of discrimination is based on prejudice, we need to get rid of discrimination, but depriving it of any institutional support. Generally, it is believed that the psychological and social health of a person is based on awareness of both one’s own individuality and uniqueness and group identity, as well as one’s belonging to all humanity.
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.