Discrimination is an age old problem that has been affecting society since humans have inhabited the earth. When looking at the origin, one must look within, for discrimination is rooted in human nature. Although rooted in human nature, discrimination is also a learned behaviour. Finally, discrimination is caused by people conforming, based on society norms and social roles. Based on the following information, discrimination is a serious problem throughout the world.
Where does discrimination come from? When did it start? These are some frequently asked questions that can be answered by simply looking in the mirror. When studying the origin and development of humans, one can also derive the roots of discrimination. Discrimination is a universal problem that is said to have an “evolutionary basis.” (Fishbein 38) There has been discrimination since man has been on earth and history can attest to this. In the Bible, Jews were made to be slaves and not given the same rights as others. During the middle ages, people with problems such as leprosy were shunned from society and treated like outsiders. The basis of World War II and the holocaust are all examples of discrimination throughout time.
It is in human nature to fear what is unknown or what is not understood. This is said to “prompt [us] to tell [ourselves/we] are better or superior in order to make [ourselves] feel less afraid.” (Palmer 9) Humans as a race tend to make judgements based on “false beliefs and not facts.” (Palmer 16) When interviewing a 29 year old male, one of his fears was that “we will never eradicate discrimination, no matter how hard we work. Society is just not like that since people will always work on surface level.” Although laws have been passed to help subside the problem, it does not eliminate it as discrimination is in human nature.
It is true that discrimination is rooted in human nature, but where does society learn to discriminate? Babies are not born to discriminate, yet as they grow they learn to. When first born, everyone is “neutral” so to say, and their childhood experiences influence who they grow up to be. Throughout a child's life, agents of socialization such as family, friends, peers and culture will directly or indirectly teach them how to discriminate. These agents of socialization surround the child during their first few years and that is how they first learn about the world. “Discrimination should emerge at about age 4, when children apparently have a well-developed sense of group or social identity.” (Fishbein 38) This explains that children by age four are able to make connections and apply what they have learned or what they have been taught. Children also learn how to discriminate through observational learning. They often replicate what they see; therefore if they see someone they look up to acting a certain way, chances are they will mirror that.
Experiences as a child can stay with individuals and can shape their outlook towards others. When applying Erikson's theory, if a child witnesses discrimination and does not resolve the issue, they carry it on into adulthood. By the time an individual is in their teenage years, they will be able to make distinctions among people based on their own experiences, feelings and teachings. This is important since in stage 5 of Erikson's Theory, individuals are developing their own identity as well as forming social relationships. This involves choosing who their friends are and often times by doing this, discrimination takes place. Therefore, society and socialization are to blame for teaching children how to discriminate, making it a learned behaviour.
When looking at what causes discrimination, one must consider society's influence. Discrimination occurs when people conform because of society norms and social roles. Just because someone strays or differs from what is expected from society, is no reason to treat them differently. Different cultures have different beliefs and values, so who is to say what is acceptable? This is one of the problems within society…people do not all agree on the same thing. There does not have to be only a certain way of behaving and thinking, yet society behaves as though there is. “Social norms in a given culture tell us the way we ought to perceive and behave towards members of particular outgroups.” (Fishbein 24) So many people are discriminated against because of who they are or what they believe in. People like immigrants, homosexuals, those of different ethnic backgrounds, those that are disabled or handicapped and women, to name a few.
Another way that people conform is through social roles. Individuals within a group are expected to behave in certain ways, yet by believing this one is being discriminatory. Just because someone belongs to a certain group does not mean they are held within its boundaries. That is like saying just because some one is white means that they are not discriminated against. This statement is both untrue and offensive. Refer to chart in appendix, as there is proof of a 29 year old male of the Aryan race that has been through discrimination. According to this man, “Social roles and what society expects of you can, overtime become what you expect of yourself.” It is because of all of this, that by people conforming to society's norms and social roles, they are also discriminating.
Although discrimination is rooted in human nature, a learned behaviour and caused by people conforming because of society norms and social roles there are no reason to excuse it. “Discrimination cannot be solved by changing human nature…does that mean that discrimination is something we `just have to live with'?” (Lee 59) The answer is no, become an activist and help make discrimination a problem of the past!