The causes and types of prejudice and discrimination

Prejudice and discrimination are attitudes and resulting actions that cause people to be treated differently. Many Christians today actively fight prejudice and discrimination in all their forms.

What is prejudice?

Prejudice comes from the words ‘to judge before’. It means to form an unfavourable opinion or feeling about a person or a group of people without a full examination. In theory, it is possible for somebody to be prejudiced without anybody else knowing about it.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is making a distinction against a person or thing based on the group, class or category they belong to, rather than basing any action on individual merit.

A simple distinction between prejudice and discrimination is that prejudice is to do with attitude, discrimination is to do with action.

Forms of discrimination include verbal slurs, failure to provide reasonable accommodation or access and hate crimes. Discrimination can be committed by individuals, groups or institutions.

Positive discrimination is where a particular group is given special privileges to compensate for a perceived disadvantage. For example, disabled people can often access parking spaces closest to a building’s entrance.

What types of prejudice are there?

Prejudice can exist wherever there is any kind of difference between people.

  • Prejudice based on gender is called sexism. Both women and men can be victims of this, but it is more common for women to be the victims.
  • Prejudice based on the national grouping or race of a person is known as racism. Colour prejudice is the most common form of racism, as skin colour is a sign of the race a person belongs to.
  • It is possible for racism to occur between people of the same skin colour. Connected to this are prejudices based on ethnicity.
  • There are forms of prejudice that combine religion and race and it can be difficult to distinguish between the two elements. Prejudice towards Jews is called anti-Semitism. Prejudice towards Muslims is called Islamophobia.
  • Prejudice towards homosexual people is called homophobia.
  • When people, young or old, suffer from prejudice because of their age it is called ageism.
  • Other main categories of prejudice are concerned with social class, disability, life-style choices and appearance.