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Prejudice and Discrimination

What are they, and what problems do they cause?

Britain in the 21st century boasts a diverse population, representing different nationalities and ethnicities, beliefs, and values. Many would agree that increasing multiculturalism - multi-ethnic and multi-faith - is a positive development. However, one downside of this is the rise of prejudice and discrimination.

Prejudice is when someone makes a judgement about someone before they even know them. Discrimination is when someone behaves poorly towards someone, treats them differently due to their prejudice.

An easy way to think about it is:

  • prejudice is a thought;
  • discrimination is an action. 

Unfortunately, there are many kinds of prejudice in the world today. Some examples include:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Ageism
  • Homophobia
  • Classism
  • Disability discrimination
  • Religious discrimination


Problems Caused by Prejudice and Discrimination

  • People who hold prejudices against others may act in a way that is discriminatory. For instance, an employer may be prejudiced against older people, and refuse to interview anyone over the age of 40, even if they were well-qualified for the job.. This is discrimination based upon ageism. Discrimination of this kind can be harmful to peoples' mental health and stop people with outstanding skills and experience from contributing to the nation's workforce.
  • Prejudice can cause hostility between people. This can then lead to conflict and even violence within communities on some occasions.
  • People can be bullied because of prejudice.
  • Extreme prejudice and discrimination in history have led to much suffering and bloodshed. The Holocaust occurred because of the Nazis deep loathing for Jews. The result was the death of 6 million Jews across Europe. Acts of terrorism can also occur, where others are targeted simply because they follow a different religion or come from a different country.


The Law and Prejudice and Discrimination

Over the last 50 years, British society has woken up to the reality of prejudice and discrimination and taken steps to change things. The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 stated that discrimination on the grounds of gender (i.e. male or female) and marital status was now illegal. The Commission of Racial Equality 1976 was set up under the Race Relations Act of 1975 to deal with complaints of discrimination. The Act made it:

  • Unlawful to discriminate against anyone because of race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origins in the sphere of jobs, training, housing, education, and the provision of services.
  • Unlawful to use threatening or abusive or insulting words in public, which could stir up racial hatred.
  • Illegal to publish anything likely to cause (incite) racial hatred.

Schools and employers aim to promote tolerance and acceptance as their key values, ensuring that no one feels discriminated against on grounds of race or gender.