If only prejudices, stereotypes, and discrimination were totally diminished from this world, needless to say that peace is something that we could always breathe in and out easily, effortlessly. If only everyone did not overemphasizing differences, everybody will live in harmony by putting aside all differences and paid more attention the commonality and similarity that tightens the values of humanity. We often hear and imagine this will come true. Yet, the world is filled with discrimination in almost every aspect in human life. One can be discriminated because of having different religion, sexual orientation, race, ideology, physical ability, and so forth. The discrimination practices are still a problem for the reason as follows:
“It is problematic because it categorizes and classifies, serves to no positive purposes and mostly used negatively. Though the law protects the people and we are to be treated equally, it is the people’s minds that won’t change and what is causing this problem to still go on” (Rothernberg, 2005, p. 1)”.
Regarding this problematic issue, it is important to understand how discrimination can occur. Discrimination occurs when prejudice and stereotypes take place. At first, prejudice is initiated by having interpersonal judgment, then, it creates certain stereotypes related to the judgment. Putting prejudice and stereotypes into a practice; that is when discrimination takes over as what Blumenfeld states in Prejudice and Discrimination that discrimination is the result of prejudiced feelings or beliefs that move into the realm of behavior (Adams, et al, 2000). Nonetheless, it is inconceivable to not having prejudice or stereotypes because we live in a society where it “influence behavior and have enormous power to reward or penalize its member to whom it reinforces existing prejudice and discrimination” (Adams, et al, 2000, p. 22). Thus, avoiding prejudice is as hard as putting aside our subjectivity. It is this subjectivity that often causes misinterpretation and misjudgment to which it sometimes distracts our objectivity. Thus, both of our objectivity and subjectivity are challenged in a more complex way as we live in global world nowadays.
Globalization and its technology have made everything borderless. New information that carries within it diverse ideas, perspectives, ideologies, concepts, knowledge, and insight torrentially come from every direction. Globalization nowadays enables us to see what is different outside our own “bubble”. Furthermore, globalization has brought competition, to which every country in the world is trying to be the best among others. Competition, it is conducted fairly, will create healthy environment. Yet, it often conducted unfairly, by practicing and implementing dirty tricks and politics that bring casualties, immolation and victims on the table. To be able to implement this, often the practices of discrimination is taken as an attempt to create the sense exclusiveness. Indubitably, within this environment, having prejudice and stereotyping is foreseeable because it is derived from the suspicion towards one and another – fearing that one might threaten and destroy the exclusiveness that has been maintained so far. Thus
Similar to discrimination practices in the nation – level, its practices in societal and personal level has also tremendously called for direct causality, victims, and immolation. At this point, the simplest way to describe this pattern is by introducing two major “actors” – the oppressor and the oppressed. In addition, there are two major acts introduced along the way – superior versus inferior. Beforehand, it is important to initiate the discussion with the core of discrimination – identity. Why? It is because this is where everything is started. By understanding what it means to have identity and how identity is constructed, it will provide the framework of understanding discrimination as a whole rather than just partially. When we learn to see things as a whole, we learn as well to balance our subjectivity and objectivity that will help us to have a better understanding. Considering such challenging issues in discrimination, this paper suggests the way of understanding the issues in diversity related to discrimination. This paper will discuss about intertwined aspects in discrimination: identity, oppression, superiority – inferiority, prejudice, stereotyping, and deculturalization. In addition, this paper is focused more on how perceiving and understanding discrimination from bottom-up viewpoint rather than top-down way of thinking.
Intertwined aspects in identity
Understanding discrimination from bottom up perspective, it is important to take an account of how it is preliminary constituted – identity. Our identity is made up of many traits, values, and characters to which each possesses within us many different selves. When we were born, we are just like a frying pan waiting for “a recipe” to be cooked. A recipe refers to a set of culture that carries values, norms, traits, behavior, attitudes, customs, beliefs, and knowledge that shape our personal identity as an individual. Along the way in our personal growth, our identity has been embedded into layers that further define who and what we are. According to Tatum in The Complexity of Identity: Who Am I, identity is described as a complex and multidimensional because “it is shaped by individual characteristics, family dynamics, historical factors, and social and political contexts…other people are the mirror in which we see ourselves” (Adams, et al, 2000, p. 9). Accordingly, our prior multidimensional knowledge has given us the sense to how we perceive ourselves and others based on designated perspectives given by, say for example, our family and the society where we live. In that case, we have been told to some extent how to see others based on our designated standard. Tatum (2000) asserts that our designated standard is multidimensional to which is “mediated by other dimensions of one-self: male or female; young or old; wealthy, middle class, or poor; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or heterosexual; able-bodied or with disabilities; Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or Atheist” (p. 9). Such designated standard generates other standards considered as otherness to other standards that do not fit our standard. Regarding this, if a person starts to consciously aware about their standards that give the sense of who they are, they will start to have the sense of identity. To some extent, when we encounter “otherness”, we tend to say that they are abnormal rather than just different. Moreover, if other identities arouse the feeling of discomfort, the simplest and fastest anticipation is to oppose it with justification through prejudice and stereotyping. Since it is the simplest and fastest anticipation, there is a lack of experience and direct interaction with the otherness to which a mere subjectivity takes over. According to Jaime Wurzel (1986) in Blumenfeld (2000), there are four functions of prejudice: the utilitarian, the protective, the value-expressive, and the cognitive function. It is very interesting to examine these functions of prejudice to “understand what role prejudice plays in human interactions” (Adams et al, 2000, p. 25). Adding to that of the functions, “the utilitarian refers to its function as gaining rewards, and avoiding punishments; the protective refers to its functions as a psychological shield from their own inadequacies and fears; the value-expressive refers to its functions as retaining their own supposed values of a pure social stock; and the cognitive refers to its functions as relating to others and digesting new information” (Adams et al, 2000, p. 26).
To challenge our own subjectivity and countering prejudice, it is highly likely to step out from the given prior knowledge to really experience the differences and otherness in a different way where we need to actually engage in actual experience, communication, and interaction with the otherness. When we are able to experience otherness in a different way that we build our own perception based on the actual experience and knowledge, we will be able to have better understanding and compromise with differences in a more moderate way. Yet, if we have not yet been able to do so, it is rather hard to reach the level of understanding where willingness and sincerity take part.
Inasmuch as discrimination manifests itself in that people are “pre-judged” based on superficial characteristics, we must honestly conclude that all people “suffer” from this on various levels. When we don’t know an individual well, we consciously or unconsciously begin to characterize him or her based on what we see. Again, this is due to our ignorance of the person’s real character and personality. We will form opinions, often based along stereotypical lines: “all people of such and such race are. . .” We can fill in the blanks with such expectations that certain races are intellectually superior, others are full of greediness, another is more artistically or athletically inclined, still another has members who are apt to be dishonest and etc. These ideas have been formed from society, media, and our own upbringing.
The issue of discrimination has always become a problematic discussion. The problematic dimension is rooted by complexity that is often overlapping and confusing. What has made discrimination perpetuated is the societal and cultural standard of the dominated group. Furthermore, the role of society in establishing pattern and setting is strongly seen as the “moderator” for discrimination practices – it enables, preserves, and sustains the standards and parameter for values and norms that should be followed, obliged, and implemented. As a result, for those who do not “fit” in the current setting will be considered as outsider whom will experience discrimination in the most direct ways.
Starting from the early concept of classifying human based on race to which it is implied that there is hierarchical division within racial system itself. The archaic racial system has evolved into further forms of discrimination that nowadays has become daily life practices – consciously or unconsciously. The impact of this classification based on hierarchical racial division is the inevitable practices of discrimination towards an individual or a group. Discrimination does not only reach the area of race but also almost every part of humanity. In Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, there are terms for “isms” mostly associated with discrimination practices nowadays: racism, sexism, misogyny, ethnocentrism, ageism, ableism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, religious prejudice, chauvinism, classism, heterosexism, and homophobia (Adams, et al, 2000).
The practices of discrimination have become a humiliation in the history of human civilization – a vicious cycle of a never-ending debate about how different we are, as opposed to put aside our differences and finding what is similar between one and another. Furthermore, discrimination is conducted based on negative prejudgment, opinion, or hate towards an individual and or group from certain racial category. Subsequently, the negative prejudgment, opinion, or hate creates what is termed as prejudice and stereotype. What is more, discrimination practices have never been a simple matter. It is constructed by so many complicated variables that intertwined one and another.
The description of discrimination is clear in theory; but, it is so hard to unpack this matter in the real life because to some extent, it is kept hidden subliminally. To illustrate, people can deny having biases, yet, their behavior displays their biases. A good example of this is the concept of white privilege. Being born as white, there is a propensity to take white privilege for granted. Being white is subconsciously unaware of the ascribed status to which for so long has given comfort and safety in the society as what has described in White Privilege that:
“We are all much more likely to disregard attributes that seldom produce a ripple than are those that subject us to discomfort. For most whites, race – or more precisely, their own race – is simply part of the unseen, unproblematic background” (Rothernberg, 2005, p. 17).
To put it another way, white privilege is a birthright privilege, “a set of advantages one receives simply by being born with features that society values especially highly” (Rothernberg, 2005, p. 18). Additionally, the “invisible” existence of white privilege is “reinforced as whites cultivated the practice of denying the subjectivity of blacks (the better to dehumanize and oppress), of relegating them to the realm of the invisible” (Rothernberg, 2005, p. 21). What can be learned so far from white privilege is how domination foster and perpetuate discrimination and further create oppression that deculturalize humanity values.
Oppression – Superiority versus Inferiority
Admittedly, when discrimination has served as a means for dominant group to maintain its control or power, forms of oppression is emerged. There is always victims cause by this oppression – the inferiority and the oppressed. As Pincus (2000) described this situation in United States as an illustration where superiority refers to dominant group named as white, especially white males, whereas the inferiority refers to people of color and women as well as non-Christian religious groups like Jews and Muslims. The oppression has become structurally mechanized in such a way that foster what is termed as collective norms. In this case, the mechanism of oppression is further described as follows:
“Oppression refers to systemic constraints on groups that are not necessarily the result of the intentions of a tyrant. Oppression in this sense is structural, rather than the result of a few people’s choices or policies. Its causes are embedded in unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, in the assumptions underlying institutional rules and the collective consequences of following those rules” (Adams et al, 2000, p. 36)
As oppression mechanized both in personal and societal level, there are five faces of oppression as determined by Young in Reading for Diversity and Social Justice (2000): exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. These forms of oppression carry its own central issue in which it characterizes the degree of discrimination in its mechanism. The central issue in exploitation is the steady process of taking advantage by one group over another. Compared to exploitation, marginalization is likely to be the most dangerous form of oppression because it prevents a person or a group from useful participation in social life and often leads to severe material deprivation and even extermination. Another case is powerlessness. In powerlessness, the injustices are often associated with inhibition of capacity building or one’s capability development, lack of decision-making power, and disrespectful treatment. Alike exploitation, marginalization, and powerlessness in which the root is a concrete power of structural and institutional in relation to others – a direct impact of master and labor, cultural imperialism is rather different. It is different because of the invisibility of impact where the oppressor’s culture has a subliminally indirect impact to the extent where it is unnoticeable, yet the effect is indeed undermining. Apart from the four-forms of oppressions, violence is rather recognizable because it appears to emphasize on direct victimization and violation, such as rape, beating, killing, and harassment (Adams et al, 2000).
Referring to five forms of oppression above, the next question will be how to disrupt the cycle of oppression and discrimination as an attempt to interlock the practices of discrimination and to lessen the pressure of oppression. To really arouse willingness of interrupting the cycle of discrimination, we should be able to confront ourselves, our status quo in which is rather hard to make judgment towards ourselves rather than to anybody else.
The longer we ignore issues around discrimination, the larger they will become. Ignoring them will not make them go away. The longer inequity exists, the longer we are losing voices that–had they been given equal opportunity–may have helped to solve the other problems we’re facing. In fact, discrimination has deculturalized humanity values and rights to be treated as equal. The concept of deculturalization is clearly portrayed as “cultural genocide where it demonstrates how cultural prejudice, racism, and religious bigotry can be intertwined with democratic beliefs – it combines education for democracy and political equality with cultural genocide” (Spring, 2004, p. 3).
It is important to understand ourselves as having multiple identities where we can be part of both the dominated group and the minority. By having understanding towards our identity, we are encouraged to have positive perspective towards our own identity and the concept of otherness in our life. To do so, we are encouraged to engage in an open-minded dimension of communication and interaction to be part of our own-constructed experience in order to rebuild our understanding.
Knowing that discrimination appears in almost every aspects in our life as a human, it is important to always be aware and conscious about its form, such as exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence. Interlocking the pressure of oppression as such is like peeling layer by layer to which are interconnected and precipitated by history, time, and life experiences. In doing so, the objectivity and subjectivity to see this matter should go along the way where it should not be overlapping. Objectivity is needed to encounter our subjectivity that might lead us to resentment, skepticism, or even cynicism caused by our own experience regarding this matter.
Wini, Athens, Ohio. 2008
Adams, Maurianne., et al. (2000). Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge.
Rothernberg, Paula S. (2005). White Privilege: essential readings on the other side of racism. New York: Worth Publishers
Spring, Joel. (2004). Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history on the education of dominated cultures in the United States. NewYork: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.