What it is: ‘Negative’ discrimination (‘discrimination against’) happens among individuals and groups when some have the power to treat others unfavourably and unfairly because of their colour, nationality, religion, politics, culture, class, caste, sex, age, mental health, physical disability or other factors.
What it means: This kind of discrimination is based on prejudice, and once it gets a foothold in society it can lead to a ‘culture of hate’ in which persecution is acceptable and even respectable. The victims of discrimination are often seen as stereotypes rather than individuals. They are treated as ‘second class citizens’ and deprived of social freedoms (as in the period of apartheid in South Africa), exploited and enslaved, or regarded as sub-human (as during the Nazi persecution of Jews). In war and other conflicts (which can be caused by discrimination) acts of prejudice and irrational hatred (including genocide) can be carried out under cover of the general violence.
Racial discrimination is forbidden by a United Nations Convention agreed in 1969, and race relations laws have been introduced in some countries with some success. ‘Positive’ discrimination (sometimes called ‘affirmative action’) has been tried in some countries: people and groups who have been treated unfavourably are deliberately welcomed and catered for instead.
Think about it: It’s important to learn the dangers of prejudice when we are quite young, so as to recognise it in ourselves. Even if we find it difficult to get over our prejudices, we have to make sure they don’t influence what we do. Where do we get our prejudices from? From our families? From our cultures? Is it that we dislike people who are ‘different’, or more that we feel threatened when people who are different gather in groups? Do you lump people in those groups together and say they are all the same ‘You can never trust an X’, ‘All Y’s are dirty’. ‘Zs have horrible customs’? Have you been at the receiving end of prejudice? If not, can you imagine what it might be like and how unjust it feels?