Discrimination, or racism in its more well-known form, is something that courses through the veins of society. A lot of people find it unfair and unjust, primarily because it probably is something that they’ve personally been a victim, and something they can empathize with other victim parties. It is perhaps something more of society want to be rid of, but in my opinion, I think that is a futile endeavour.
Discrimination holds the following meaning according to dictionary.com:
treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit
Discrimination can work in our favour, or against it; and typically, at least one person is going to come out unhappy because such a basis for decision was used. To have a fair society then, it would seem that everyone should be making decisions without “bias”, but according to “individual merit” according to the definition.
This brings up the point of stereotyping:
a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group
Of course, rather than have society as a whole dictate the stereotypes in our lives, we tend to make up our own stereotypes and try to match everyone around us to each of these stereotypes that we’ve concocted.
Stereotyping may result in us making a bad image to represent certain people, and then using that image to influence our thoughts and decisions which in turn leads to discrimination of some sort; because there is bias. So it would seem fair to hypothesize that discrimination comes from a subconscious development of stereotyping.
Why do we stereotype? To put it bluntly, I think that we do, because we are intelligent. Whenever we meet someone we want to find out as much as we can about them. I’m not saying that you want to be their best friend, or that you want to stalk them; but that you want to find out a certain amount of information about them, to serve some purpose. What purpose may that be? Well, with thanks to something known as “paranoia” we want to find out things about people for our own safety. At the least, I reckon that we all want to ascertain whether someone is a “threat” to our well-being or not.
How do we find out this information? By using our five senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste – maybe less of the last two. We can observe someone from afar and find out the “surface” things about them. But to know them deeper, to find out about their way of thinking, and whatever cannot be seen or heard, we have to actually talk to them. Problem with this is that if that person happens to be a threat, talking to them may (though not likely) spell out your death; that’s just an extreme. But it is true for any scenario where you want to know more about someone – you actually have to interact with them, rather than simply observing them from the side. In this case, to make a fair decision for people based on their individual merit, it would involve getting to know people – and well, for that matter.
The only problem with this last thing is that we don’t have all the time in the world to find out stuff about the other person. Sometimes we have to make a decision regarding a person we just met literally a second ago. You’ll get no more time than just to have a short glance at that person. How do you decide then? And this is where the stereotype comes in. How much can you find out about a person? Plenty if you assume that they share similar attributes to people you’ve met previously – that is, you assume certain inner attributes about them based on their outward attributes by labelling them with the attributes of previous people you’ve met, who have the same or similar appearance. Sorry if that was a really long description. For example, if you had met ten people previously who wore wide-rimmed hats and spoke in a Texan accent, then you could assume that the next person you saw with a wide-rimmed hat would also have a Texan accent.
Why is this smart? Because you’d rather use that assumption than not to use it. It’s not likely that your assumption, if it’s wrong, could result in something more detrimental; unless of course the other person rages because they realise you are discriminating against them. But in all honesty if you ever saw a person with a gun (and not wearing some sort of uniform), you’d immediately stereotype them as a “bad person” and make a run for it. What do you gain if you are right? Life. What do you lose if you’re wrong? Potentially nothing. There’s heaps at stake here if you’re ever forced into making a split second decision like that. A person holding a gun doesn’t necessarily make them a threat to your well-being; but because everyone has observed scenarios where they are, it’s logical and intelligent to follow that stereotype.
For less serious scenarios, again the amount of time to make sure you have enough information to make a fair decision is short. Old-looking granny = frail, weak. Therefore when you see her, you should not hesitate to get up out of your seat on the bus or train and offer it to her. Worse case scenario would be that she’s in fact not weak, gets mad because you thought she was weak, and hence gives you a beating that young ruffians deserve.
To sum up, we are all intellectually going to apply stereotyping in our judgement, not because we are lazy and don’t want to bother in finding out about a person, but because it’s more “efficient” – you would hardly waste more than a few seconds in deciding who to offer your seat to on the bus or train; it’d just be stupid if you had to survey each “candidate” to see who is “more fit” for your seat. It’s not a nice thing to stereotype, no, because it can lead to discrimination. But the sad truth is that there will be discrimination because we are intelligent people and as a result we will employ stereotyping which may more often lead to the right choice than the wrong one – it’s a gamble we are all probably willing to take.