One of the worst problems in American history is a problem that U.S. citizens are still facing today, the problem of discrimination. Throughout the years discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation and age have all been fought against, it is in the Constitution that no one shall discriminate based on those qualifications, and yet people still do. Perceptions and prejudices cloud people's minds, bias their thoughts, influence their reactions to other people. A minority man walking down the street at night becomes a threat, women still make less money then men, a straight person may avoid friendship with a gay person, and many many other examples of biased thought. The reason that discrimination still pervades society is because certain kinds of discrimination are still acceptable, over the years some discrimination has become unacceptable and so has trickled out of existence for the most part. But whenever society accepts a certain kind of prejudice as part of its culture, discrimination stays. All of the world is discriminating against someone, what we need to do is open our minds and realize when we are discriminating and try to make changes within ourselves. The first step is to acknowledge your prejudice.
Racial discrimination is the most obvious kind, because it is based on stereotypes and assumptions about people's behavior some kinds of racial discrimination are still considered socially acceptable. For example, it is not considered unreasonable for a woman walking alone at night in a city to feel threatened by a minority man; a lot of crime is committed by minorities in cities. This is a stereotype that does often prove true, and therefore it is considered perfectly understandable when the woman gets upset and frightened and goes out of her way to avoid what may be a perfectly nice young man.
Brent Staples, a black man living in New York City, explains, "To her, the youngish black man – a broad six feet two inches with a beard and billowing hair, both hands shoved into the pockets of a bulky military jacket – seemed menacingly close." The stereotypes of blacks and Hispanics are not the only racial stereotypes to pervade American society though. Everyone knows that Asians are better at math and science, Indians are horrible drivers, Middle Easterners are involved with the terrorists and Spanish teenagers often have at least one kid. Jokes are constantly made about the consistency of Mexicans jumping the border, illegal aliens all going to work in one truck, the white yankees and squares, the black gang member... and all of it is considered acceptable by society.
As a half-Asian, half-white teenage applying for colleges I followed my mother's advice: when applying to colleges in the South I marked my ethnicity as Asian, when applying in the North I said I was white. Her reasoning was that they would need more minorities in the South to show that they were discriminating, but in the North it would be better to look like a smart white person rather than a stupid Asian. The sad thing is that she was right on all counts. We all know that not all these stereotypes apply to everyone in that racial group, and yet we still act based on this generalized "knowledge".
Although there was a whole movement to make the genders equal, people still discriminate based on what they think males and females can and can't do – and also what they should and shouldn't do. However, many jobs still remain filled by mostly one gender, men are still teased for being "sissies" when they reveal knowledge how to do something supposedly "feminine", and women are considered "butch" or "unladylike" if they can keep up with the men. The word "feminist" has become an insult. There has been an entire movement to stop "sexist" language, making everything gender neutral. It's not just women who are being discriminated against either, it's also men. Gender bias pervades all of society; in an essay written by feminist Barbara Ehrenreich she makes her own assumptions about the male gender – and of course not all of these assumptions hold true for all (or even most!) men. For example, "What I think women could learn from men is how to get tough...men will cheerfully own up to the hard work, intelligence, and so on, to which they owe their success." Despite the fact that Ehrenreich is a feminist and used to thinking of men discriminating against women, she's made her own assumptions about men in the essay. Personally, I know a lot of women who are a lot 'tougher' than a lot of the men I know, and vice versa. But even now, in this gender conscious age, we differentiate between men and women based of pre-conceived notions of how the genders 'should' act.
Then we have the people that we don't even notice we discriminate against. The undesirables of society, the people whom everyone thinks it's ok... how many jokes do you know about homosexuals? How many people thought that Matthew Sheppard got what he deserved when he was tortured and killed merely for being gay? How many people can honestly say that some part of them doesn't squirm when they realize that the person they're talking to is not only gay, but the same gender as them. How many of us play the game of trying to figure out if the masculine looking woman is a really a woman or a man in drag? And along with these social pariahs are the sick, the needy, the homeless. People drive along main streets in their nice cars, on their way to business lunches... never even meeting the gaze of the man in rags holding a sign and a cup. At night couples walk out of movie theatres in the city, holding hands and completely ignoring the person curled up on the sidewalk asleep. The homeless are chased out of parks, arrested for vagrancy. If you're unemployed for too long then that just means that you're lazy right? Not looking hard enough, not working hard enough. These are the untouchables, the bottom of our caste system, the ignored and despised. More than anyone else, these are the people that mainstream America discriminates against.
Think back over your day, how many people did you make assumptions about today? Did you meet anyone for the first time? Did you think you knew something about a total stranger? Then sit back and wonder, what assumptions, prejudices, biases do people have about me? Ask yourself if this is how you want to live your life, possibly missing out on opportunities with great people, great experiences, because of your own closed mind and discriminating ideas. Find where you've been discriminating and then, maybe, you can start to change that.