Friday, April 8, 2011

The ABCs of discrimination

This week Sweets* (who recently changed her name from sweet_mom) has been posting  a very important message about standing up against discrimination.

Before deciding on whether to stand for or against any issue you should take time to educate yourself and get to know what its all about, right?

What is discrimination?
Discrimination is treating somebody differently and unfairly because of their:
  • age
  • culture/heritage
  • disability
  • financial situation
  • gender
  • race
  • religion
  • sexual orientation
  • skin color
  • any other personal characteristics
A person who discriminates against another person does something to make that person feel less then human and that they are less deserving of the rights that we are all entitled to as human beings.

The most common types of discrimination are racial remarks and slurs, being called disrespectful names and being the target hurtful jokes.

Discrimination is unfair people are treated based on something superficial that they can usually not control and takes no account of a person's character or accomplishments.

Why does discrimination happen?
It's quite simple. Discrimination exists and survives because we allow it to. We carry it out or we watch silently as others do it.

When you assume that what you do, how you do it and what you believe in is "normal," and that other's who do not share your views are abnormal and less intelligent or less deserving of what you feel you are entitled to in life you are walking on dangerous ground.

Throughout history this attitude has lead to people living all over the world being denied basic human rights - the right to an education, to be employed, to be married or be connected to family, to vote, to live in a community of their choosing, to justice, etc.

Did you know ... ?
Discrimination taken to the extreme can make people do very bad things that harm many generations.
  • 11th to 13th centuries: For hundreds of years the Roman Catholic church in Europe waged wars against non-Christian religious groups and other "enemies" of the many popes that lived during those times. These religious wars were intended to win back land that the church felt it was entitled to as well as convert non-Christians to Christianity, but resulted in mass murders, slavery and other unspeakable injustices. Read more about The Crusades »
  • 1619-1861: The colonies of the United States of America began forcefully taking people from the West Coast of Africa and selling them as cattle for free labor. Slaves worked in people's homes or and businesses (like plantations) and were not allowed to learn to read and write, marry and were forced to live in squalid conditions. Slaves had no rights and were treated as less than human. The U.S.A. is still racially divided as a result of slavery. Learn more about Slavery in the USA »
  • 1933 to 1945: During World War II, Adolph Hitler unified an entire nation by gradually influencing the German people against people of Jewish heritage and other minority groups, including the elderly and people who had a mental or physical disability. By using people's fears to manipulate them, Hitler planted the seeds of prejudice that lead to entire European nations turning a blind eye to people being wrongfully imprisoned and approximately 6 million Jewish people murdered in masses. Read more about the Jewish Holocaust »
  • 1941 to 1949: Fearing an invasion from Japan during World War II, the Canadian government forced 22,000 Japanese Canadians (over half of whom were born in Canada) out of their homes in British Columbia to live in prison camps. The government took away their property and land and sold it. Adult men were made to live in separate camps, and able-bodied Japanese Canadians had no choice but to work as low-paid farm workers. Read more about Japanese Canadian Interment »
Many other examples of how people have been isolated ("marginalized") and pushed to the outer limits of society exist throughout history, like the Rwanda Genocide, the mistreatment of Aboriginal Australians, or Cortés's Conquest of Mexico.

Check yourself.
Whether we would like to admit it or not, we have discriminated against someone in our lives. We all play a role in discrimination ... otherwise it wouldn't exist! Sometimes we may not even be aware of our own prejudices against people or groups. But we have the opportunity to play a positive part in our communities and take a stand against discrimination.

Take a hard look at yourself and ask yourself some hard-hitting questions ...
  • Who are the people that I allow into my social circle (my friends at school or work, my boyfriend or girlfriend)?
    • Do they look the same as me?
    • Do they believe the same religion, morals, values as I do?
    • Are they from the same cultural/heritage group as me
  • Who are the people that I don't allow into my social circle?
    • Do they look different than me?
    • Are they of different religion, or have different morals and values than I do?
    • Are outside of the cultural/heritage group that I belong to?
  • How do I feel about people from different cultures or countries?
    • What opinions have I formed about people from different cultures or countries?
    • Are my opinions formed through my own experiences, the experiences of other people, or what I think may be true?
  • How do I treat people from different cultures or countries who may speak, look, or dress differently than I do and/or have different beliefs?
Of course, sometimes we are limited by the simple lack of diversity of the community that we live in. In this case, it's important to ask:
'If a family that was from a different racial and/or religious group moved into my community how would I feel about their presence?'.
When in doubt, lead your life by The Golden Rule: treat others the way that you would want them to treat you.

Why stop discrimination?
Communities and nations are weakened by discrimination. It separates us, it isolates families and neighbours. It spreads hate, fear and untruth. It causes harmful social problems where you live, go to school, work and church.

Would the world be boring if all music was the same? What about if all foods looked and tasted alike. How would you feel if everyone was expected to dress the same?

So why is there an expectation for all people to be the same?

Let's get real. Anyone can be the target of discrimination because we are all different.

A life that's diverse is one that is interesting, exciting and worthwhile.

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