Prejudice, discrimination and stereotype are serious challenges to the current generations in the 21st century. People form judgments about others by looking at their skin color, religion, culture, education background, political affiliation, gender, nationality and even disability. This has contributed negatively to the society’s wellbeing and disharmony. The society has been accepting people from different backgrounds as time goes; nonetheless, discrimination, prejudice and stereotype continue to happen mostly in subtle forms and secret (Parekh, 2010). The Parekh Report and the Diversity and Disadvantage study found that more than 20,000 African- Caribbean’s face discrimination every year. A survey in the UK showed that the minority groups face discrimination. People of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin stood a 4.2 per cent risk, Indians at 3.6 per cent risk and black groups stood a 2.2 per cent risk. This is in contrast with the white groups, whose risk stood at 0.3 per cent (Office of National Statistics, 2004). It is the duty of all stakeholders to speak out against discrimination, prejudice and stereotype.
According to Gordon Allport, prejudice is a hostile attitude towards another person, because he or she belongs to a particular group. Unfounded beliefs and unreasonable attitude on the personality characteristics may develop to hate and make some people lose their self-esteem. People known to practice prejudice usually identify themselves with a group, and perceive others as outsiders. Prejudice can originate from fear of others. Having a different perception with another person may also create a feeling of ridicule, rejection or embarrassment leading to negative consequences (Dugan, 2004). Stereotype is a thought or belief about a person or something that does not reflect the reality. It is a form of prejudice where an individual makes an exaggerated generalization to describe or distinguish one group from another in an offensive manner. Discrimination refers to distinguishing the treatment of two people because of their membership or perceived membership. It involves providing privileges to some people and excluding others based on irrational grounds.
Prejudice and discrimination have negative impact on society. Some of the cases have led to violence and loss of lives. One of the examples is discrimination of the Jews in Germany and the holocaust that happened during the reign of Adolf Hitler. According to Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, many Jews left Germany due to discrimination and anti-Semitism. Lots of Jews suffered inhuman treatment in concentration camps. Cases of racism, discrimination, prejudice and stereotype are common in schools, workplaces and sports grounds and even on the streets. Many people have fallen victim, and this has adversely affected their performance. Some have been unable to cope with life pressures.
Prejudice and stereotype originate from social, cognitive and societal factors. Social categorization involves putting people into groups because they have common attributes. Nadler (1997/8) notes that stereotypes are a convenient cognitive mechanism, which later turns out to be a social disease. According to him, some social psychologists believe that prejudice results from conflicts over scarce resources. Prejudice results from circumstances, and not from human nature. A perfect example is children living in a refugee camp. Because of scarcity of water and food, they tend to group themselves and develop negative attitude to others who competes with them. Name-calling and fighting later lead to prejudice. Social norms are a major influence on prejudice and stereotypes. People will tend to act in a given way just to conform to what they believe in, and this is normal in a social group, which they belong to (Macleod, 2008). They tend to treat well people who belong to their group and give them preferential treatment. In out-group bias, people who do not belong to a group are viewed negatively and treated badly. This may fuel racial inequality and lead to adverse effects (Tajfel, 1982). Societal origin seems to be the major source of prejudice and stereotypes. People tend to group themselves according to their religion, color or economic class and view others with contempt. According to Forgan (2001), stereotype is a multi-stage process. The first stage is category identification, which entails assigning a stimulus to a social category. The second stage is mental activation of attributes to the activated category. The third stage is applying the stereotypic concepts to construe the stimulus. The last stage involves correcting the stereotype. According to Oskamp (2000), prejudice is not inborn and can be reduced to negligible levels. There are several strategies to do so. One of them is cooperative learning in schools and free interaction in social places. This will enable students to learn and teach each other. Entertainment is also a good strategy of reducing prejudice. The use of books, radios, stories and films with themes discouraging prejudice can help the youths avoid the vice. Dialogue between people of diverse backgrounds and cross-cultural training will reduce the level of prejudice (Oskamp, 2000). Discrimination and prejudice have far-reaching effects on the victims. It may lead to metal health effect and trauma. A person may also lose job, fail to get a job promotion or have his/her reputation tarnished. Parents who practice discrimination may pass it on to their children. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, cases of anger, depression and anxiety are high among the African-Americans. This is due to the discrimination they suffer from the white majority (Sahar, 2010).
Prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes have been among the major fields of study by social psychologists. Scholars have studied these topics and made vivid explanation of their impacts. They have also devised remedies to fight them. The battle is still ongoing with governments and educational institutions making explicitly clear the impact of such wrong actions. The progress made so far is an indication that in the near future all people will be treated equally and not be subjected to any unfair treatment.