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Prejudice and Discrimination

Understanding Prejudice and its Causes

  • Researchers emphasize that prejudices are learned attitudes, and that all people, no matter how rational they are, hold prejudices
  • Bias – is a preference or inclination that inhibits impartial judgment
  • Stereotype – is an association of a trait or traits incorrectly and/or unfairly ascribed to a group and to most members of that group
  • Prejudice – is a predisposition to strong negative feeling toward a group of people
  • Bigotry – is intense hatred toward a group of people
Perpetuation of Prejudice: Media
  • Think about all the media we consume everyday: magazine, ads, television shows, commercials, news programs, cartoons, and movies
  • Often these representations are stereotypes, but we do not recognize them as such because the images are so pervasive that they seem to portray reality


Perpetuation of Prejudice : Language

  • In addition to the derogatory and offensive slurs that members of minority groups are often subjected to, language can reflect prejudice in more subtle ways, through euphemisms, stereotypes, humor, insults, and cliches.


Perpetuation of Prejudice: Rationalizations

  • Prejudice is also perpetuated by people’s tendency to rationalize their attitude and the negative behaviors that result.  
  • Rationalizations of prejudices take three forms: denial, victim-blaming, and avoidance
  • Denial Rationalization – a  person using a denial rationalization refuses to admit that the prejudice exists.  Someone who is “in denial” says that no injustice has incurred
  • Example: “Salary inequality isn’t discrimination; men are the breadwinners for their families and they need to make more money than women do.” 
  • Victim-blaming rationalizations – claim that the problem lies with a minority group’s perceived deficiencies and therefore prejudice against that group is not a true problem
  • Example: “People on welfare are so lazy. I they just worked harder, they wouldn’t be poor.”
  • Avoidance Rationalizations – acknowledge the existence of a problem, but avoid the issue by proposing false solutions or by introducing irrelevant arguments
  • Example: Sure, racial prejudice is a problem, but people shouldn’t be so sensitive about things.  Constantly talking about how offended you are is just making things worse.” 


Causes and Consequences of Prejudice

  • Elitism – the belief that the “best” people succeed in society and form a natural aristocracy.  Others are less successful because they lack the necessary qualities to be successful
  • Zero-sum attitude – is a competitive perspective of power that states that the personal gains of one individual means a loss for someone else; therefore, to share power is lose power
  • Racial profiling  – occurs when authorities assume that members of certain groups are more likely to engage in criminal activity or violence 


Theories of Discrimination

  • These three theories attempt to identify the historic and contemporary forces responsible for ongoing discrimination today.
  • Interest theory – states that discrimination results from people protecting their power and privilege.  For example, homeowners might persuade neighbors not to sell to minorities to keep them out of the neighborhood.
  • Internal colonialism – describes the discriminatory system created by white European me i order to assume control of America’s resources.  It includes the unjust taking of land from American indians, the exploitation of the unpaid labor of African slaves, and the use of the wages and property of their wives, who had few legal rights.  
  • Institutionalized discrimination – describes policies and practices in institutions that have negative effects on minority groups.  It examines how privilege and advantage are embedded in an organization’s norms, regulations, informal rules, and roles.  This theory is based on the assumption that much discrimination today is unintentional.


Consequences of Prejudice

  • Negative behaviors caused by prejudice can be passive and active
  • Avoiding or limiting interactions with members of minority groups is a passive behavior resulting from prejudice.  People choose to be around only people most like themselves; they have less regard for those outside their own group
  • Discrimination is also considered a passive consequence of prejudice.  Widespread avoidance of contact with minority groups leads to people in engaging in or condoning discrimination in education, employment or housing.  
    • For example, in spite of legislation designed to desegregate schools and promote fair housing policies, for decades most white Americans avoided living in racially diverse neighborhoods.
    • “white flight” is a common phenomenon resulting in unequal housing and educational resources between suburbs and inner cities
  • Verbal abuse, physical assault and extreme violence are active negative behaviors
  • Name-calling may escalate into physical assault.
  • If prejudice evolves into bigotry, hatred can lead to extreme violence, including the desire to commit murder which is considered hate crime. 
  • If homicidal rage spreads, it might lead to an extreme form of violence that includes the systematic and deliberate extermination of a racial, ethnic or national group which is called genocide.


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