Tag Archives: discrimination

What Is Discrimination?

In its most basic form, discrimination is a form of social control and manipulation. Discrimination is present in almost every aspect of life, as it is deeply rooted both nationally and internationally, and is also apparent on playgrounds and in job interviews. I believe that discrimination can be attributed to social insecurity, or an effort to maintain hierarchical power and unearned privilege.

Growing up as a Jew in the thickest region of the  Bible belt, discrimination was prevalent. When I was a child, my parents tried to shield me from antisemitism by surrounding our family with other Jews. However, as I grew older I began to feel the burn of discrimination that I had naively thought was outdated. There are currently organizations and social groups at the University of Texas, and throughout the state of Texas, which do not accept Jewish members. This concept sounds appalling and unbelievable, but is simply a known fact of life for Jews living in Texas. This discrimination is the result of a factitious linkage between Jews and undeserved stigmas. Privileged groups constantly use discrimination as a desperate attempt to protect themselves against seemingly threatening groups. Privileged groups in Texas shield themselves from Jews for a variety of reasons. Some have never before met Jewish people, and therefore simply rely on stereotypes, and others are not accepting of those who differ from the white, Christian norm. Groups are discriminated against simply because they are different, as our society is deeply uncomfortable with ambiguity or difference.


What is Discrimination?

Everyone knows what discrimination is. To treat others badly compared to another based on some (usually immutable) characteristic. May people are aware that discrimination is wrong — done by those only who are obviously racist, sexist, transphobic, etc. But is that what discrimination really is?

The thing is, everyone discriminates. You might not be homophobic, but you might treat a woman who chose not to wear makeup differently than one who did. You might not refuse to pick a woman to be on your team, but think twice a man applies to be a babysitter. And all of these treatments are based in prejudice; discrimination is not just hate, but could be as simple as picking a boy over a girl to play a game.

Because of some (unrelated) characteristic, people tend to think that there is some connection between those who share that same attribute. Stereotypes created through justification, or pretending that it isn’t a stereotype is how discrimination spreads.

Big Question: Why do we hate? Why do we discriminate?

When we talk about the battle against discrimination, we’re usually referring to a particular legal framework that protects the rights of the oppressed. In tackling discrimination—prejudicial treatment of an individual based on his actual or perceived membership in a particular category or group—we rarely think about the actual foundations of discrimination. We think about punishment, not about solutions.

The constricting nature of how we socialize our youth is the strongest contributor to discrimination—to racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Many contemporary childcare books, even those written by self-proclaimed progressives, view behavioral nonconformity during childhood as problematic because it is linked to homosexuality. When we force our archaic and destructive heteronormative way of life onto our children, we propagate a system that excludes those who are different and that prevents our youth from achieving its full potential. Amongst the outcasts are generally homosexuals, transgender individuals, fat people, and racial minorities.

But it is not our parents alone that reify stereotypes and that buckle us down to a world in which discrimination flourishes. Our institutions, even those that we hold in esteem, are part of the machine that reinforces the binarized gender system. In “Resisting Medicine, Re/Modeling Gender,” Dean Spade makes the case that the medicalization of transgenderism has contributed to the ostracizing of the trans community. Reassessing socialization and institutional positions is imperative if we hope to effectively address discrimination.

Martin, Karin A. “William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender and Society 19.4 (2005): 456-79. Print.

Spade, Dean. “Resisting Medicine, Re/modeling Gender.” Berkeley Women’s Law Journal (2003): 15-37. Print.

What is Fairness?

Fairness is equity. It is a state in which one is free from discrimination and injustice. Not everyone experiences fairness. For those who seek fairness, may not experience it in the same way. In Ellen Samuels essay, “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discussion,” she describes the discrimination and that nonvisible disabled individuals face on a daily basis. Coming to terms with “disability as a valid social identity,” (237) is certainly difficult, especially when the disability is not visible. The unfairness that derives from this situation reoccurs every time a disabled person must “construct a specific narrative explaining her body to a skeptical ignorant, and somewhat hostile audience” (238).  That is not fair. Fairness exists when an audience or a society does not discriminate against one’s abilities or disabilities, visible or invisible. A fair-minded society, moreover, is one in which a nonvisible disabled individual can live without having to “pass,” or show exterior signs of his or her disability (Samuels 240).

Samuels, Ellen. “My Body, My Closet: Invisible Disability and the Limits of Coming-Out Discourse.” Project Muse. (2003): 233-255. Print.

Big Question: What is Privilege?

The word privilege is used quite often when discussing issues of race, class, sexual orientation, and other instances in which a majority group is granted societal advantages over minority groups.  The concept of privilege is wonderfully described in this post on the blog of Tressie McMillan Cottom, a PhD student in sociology at Emory University.  In the post, Cottom describes how being raised in a black American family shaped her view on privilege, beginning with the story of how her mother’s ability to act as “a respectable black person” allowed her to assist an elderly neighbor who, lacking both a mastery of the Queen’s English and a fashionable outfit, was being continuously turned away by employees at a social services office.  Cottom remembers that it took her mother only half a day to accomplish what the elderly woman had been working on for over a year.  Cottom goes on to describe her experiences witnessing privilege at play in several other interpersonal interactions throughout her life.  The common thread is that poor people are often judged for “wasting money” on consumer goods that might be considered luxury, but that poor people who don’t display outward appearances of affluence are often ignored in stores, treated poorly by others, and passed over in interviews.  Furthermore, those that do portray a certain level of affluence are given preferential treatment on the job, receive better customer service, and are overall treated better in interpersonal interactions.  What is privilege?  Cottom’s examples illustrate the concept well: getting promoted to manager just because you showed up for an interview in a designer suit, having a school principal defer to your judgement simply because you’re a middle class parent and you know how to navigate the educational administrative system if you need to advocate for your child.  These are just a few (among many) reasons why poor people shouldn’t be judged for ever displaying any upscale or luxury belongings.

McMillan Cottom, Tressie, “The Logic of Stupid Poor People.” Tressiemc. 04 Nov. 2013. Weblog. 06 Nov. 2013. http://tressiemc.com/2013/10/29/the-logic-of-stupid-poor-people

What Is Oppression?

What is oppression? In the words of Bette S. Tallen, quoted in “Reading the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery,” “the reality of oppression is replaced with the metaphor of addiction.” Often, the ways in which women are oppressed are insidious, made manifest in seemingly innocent ways that do not occur to consumers buying fashion magazines, weight-loss products, and beauty products. In “Reading the Body Beautiful,” Sharlene Nagy Hesse-Biber reveals the ways in which women are made to feel physically inadequate, which create a “fixable” problem that many women obsess over and that covers up deeper issues of inequality, poverty, education, racism, and sexism. Women’s issues are pushed to the side, secondary to the daunting task given to women by society of achieving the “ideal” feminine look.  While women have gained considerable influence over the past few decades, the fact that their appearances are still scrutinized and criticized is discouraging. As Hesse-Biber says, current culture focuses the reason for women’s problems away from social forces and onto women themselves. This is a way of oppressing women, by creating bogus problems for our culture to focus on so that the injustices being perpetrated against women are not realized and so that action is not taken against maintaining a patriarchal society.

Hesse-Biber, Sharlene N.  “Selling the Body Beautiful: Food, Dieting, and Recovery.” The Cult of Thinness. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.

What is Privilege?

Privilege can only be recognized through the absence of privilege. If everyone has a privilege, then no one truly does. A privilege, in the most straightforward sense of the word, is a right or advantage given to a certain individual or group of individuals. The ability to make your own choices, to do what you want without judgment or restraint, to be who you want to be regardless of your race or gender, to live without fear. These are the most important privileges, but they should be rights. But society has turned these rights into privileges—privileges that are not granted to everyone. Black men cannot do what they want without being discriminated against. Women cannot live without being judged by their appearance or live completely without the fear for their safety lingering in the back of their minds. Homosexual and transgender people cannot be who they want to be without judgment. These are all examples of a lack of privilege. The disparity between rights and advantages given to different people is what makes them privileges.