What Does Discrimination Look Like?

August 11th, 2011 | Categories: Stereotypes in General

Privilege is the experience of receiving benefits or advantages that are not given to others. Privilege can take many forms such as white privilege, class privilege, male privilege, sexuality privilege, and so forth. A commonality among these is the invisibility of privilege.

People do not notice the privileges they receive because they are taken for granted as rights. It is natural and even humble to assume that the reason you are given something is because anyone else would also be given the same thing in that same situation. It would be arrogant to think you are getting something because you are uniquely worthy of this above everyone else. The invisibility of privilege means you likely don’t realize 1) that you have an advantage 2) that others have a disadvantage.

Those that are disadvantaged generally come from marginalized groups. In contrast to privileged groups, marginalized groups are those who have historically received less rather than more. They are at a disadvantage rather than advantage. This disadvantage is visible, particularly so when it takes the form of discrimination. Discrimination is the extension of prejudice into behavior to provide “differential treatment” (Allport, 1954/1979, p. 52). Being disadvantaged is visible to marginalized groups because they 1) suffer the consequences of disadvantage 2) must learn to anticipate discrimination in order to avoid it or, when it does occur, manage it.

Although discrimination is visible and common to marginalized group members, those from privileged groups may never have first-hand experience with seeing it. Oftentimes this is because the person discriminating may never communicate the reason for discriminating and will instead make up arbitrary reasons for their differential treatment. Although these reasons may be transparent to a marginalized group member, they may be subtle to those with privilege.

Marginalized group member says:
I’d like to buy this item you posted on Craigslist.
Craig’s List Seller says:
I can’t sell this to you because I promised to give it to my brother instead.
Marginalized Group Member thinks:
But you’re the one who posted the advertisement on Craigslist.

The discrimination in this brief conversation is veiled and just legitimate sounding enough to perhaps go unnoticed by those with privilege. But sometimes, discrimination is overt. The following instance of overt discrimination allows me to expose what discrimination looks like for those of us who are privileged.

For further and extensive discussion on this particular instance of discrimination see its Reddit discussion.

Allport, G. W. (1954/1979). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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