Friday, July 21, 2006

Discrimination...



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What is discrimination? Does it always have to be overt or can it couched in terms that do not sound discriminative but are in fact?

A woman who solves a hard math problem getting accused of cheating because she could not have solved it when none of the men in the class were able to is discrimination. Attributing the differences in the ratio of women to men in science degrees to innate abilities when no such theory has so far been proved is discriminative. Having to exert yourselves more to be taken seriously is discriminative. Being discounted as being *insert stereotypical behaviour* is discriminative.

Many a times you just feel the discrimination in your bones. You know that if you were someone else, had slightly different physical features, etc, you would have gotten a different reaction/behaviour from that other person. When such feelings become chronic, you know that there is something seriously wrong with this society that makes certain set of people feel like that they are inferior to another set of people.

It’s when people don’t know that I was a woman that I can really see the difference. Even in just stupid things. You go into a department store and people are more likely to wait on you.


Stupid things, yes... But a sum total of such stupid things are what makes someone feel that they are inferior to others. It is just an aquired knowledge that just because they are so and so means that they are sub-human because they are treated less favourably than others without such "handicaps". The killer really is when it comes from the most unexpected people.

Discrimination as such is hard to quantise and even more hard to put it in words. Most often we just swallow it without pointing out to the other person what his/her means and what implications they carry. If you do point it out to them, they are most likely to say that they do not really mean it and they are just jesting; "not to be taken seriously" attitude. If you still persist in pointing out that they are reaffirming certain stereotypes which are essentially not true, they are likely to be become indignant and take it more or less personally, as if we were accusing them of some henious crime (which is true in certain ways). If you still persist, they would try to prove the truthfullness of the stereotypes by pointing to statistics that are inherently a manifestation of discrmination - what I mean is that if a certain group of people are left of consideration for certain jobs, then you cannot point out the number of these people employed in these jobs as proof of their capability, ie, you are assuming no discrimination to prove that there is no discrimination!!

Why dont we fight against such discrimination? Why dont we go about pointing out to people that they are being discriminative? Why do not people see that discrimination mainly exists because people think that there is no discrimination? Too many whys... One of the reasons we do not fight it is because we buy into it a little bit ourselves. If one is treated in a way that is detrimental to his/her self-esteem, s/he begins to think detrimentally of oneself. I think it takes a while to understand that the problem is not with them but with the others who treat them so. But even then, a lifetime of low self-esteem does not suddenly go away. Another reason why one would not fight it is because they do not want to antagonise the people around them. After all, (wo)man is a social animal! Acceptance is craved and is something that people do not want to jeopardise by pointing out how shallow the others are being.

For all of us who want to work towards to removing discrimination, there exists a vital question that needs to be answered - who determines that discrimination exists?
The logical answer to that question is that we take the word of the people who say that they are being discriminated against.
The answer is obviously not as simple as that. There certainly are questions of honesty, integrity and scholarship to determine whether this is indeed true and what is the best way to work against such discrimination. But the important thing is to understand is that it is not for the discriminator to say that s/he does not discriminate. It is for the people who are discriminated to say so.

When most people say that they consider men and women to be equal and that they treat both of them equally, I would ask them to consider whether that is completely or even partially true. Most of the time, it wont be true. That goes even for me.

There are a lot of things that we belive is true about ourselves. One of those is that we believe that we are fair and objective when it comes to analysing the world around us. I think our perceptions is a function of our prejudices and opinions and knowledge about the world. Once we realise that, we realise that it is so easy to discriminate without realising it. And it is not solely for us to say that we are not being discriminative. If a lot of people feel that you are being discriminative, maybe you are.

Lucky are the privileged few who do not face any discrimination. But they really are unlucky because they would never understand the true nature of discrimination. They never realise that it is more complex than denying the rights to a well or being relegated to the back of the bus, that it works in subtle ways, ways that words cannot describe and are experienced by people who face the pointy end of it everyday. It is hard to understand for them. I understand that. But the problem comes up when they take up cudgels and fight against any move that seeks to bring to light these little disparities in treatment. It pains me when they call the others as liars, opportunists, dishonest blokes who are just after free lunches and are not willing to work and succeed on their own _merit_. That is when they become the enemy, that is when they show their dirty underbelly. The fact that they are able to influence and exert so much power on public opinion escapes their comprehension.

Whether the discrimination is against women or lower caste people or radicals or homosexuals, it is almost always the same and follow the same patterns. It is fascinating to look at these patterns and I wonder why so few people see it. In fact, there would be some who would fight against discrimination against women but would rant against leftists saying that it is habitual for them to lie.

Amazing. Truly. Amazing.

The world turns worser everyday in certain ways. But it also gets better in certain other ways. I just hope that the world is getting better more than it is getting worse. But somehow the evidence shows otherwise. Pessimistic? I know...

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3 comments:

rc said...

Interesting,

Remember to think along these lines while confronted with these issues.

* You can never really prevent somebody from thinking racist, you can only prevent someone from acting racist. That is what we must and can do.

* You can never really relate to another persons so called "lack of discrimination". You might be tempted to think, "Gee I wish I could be like him/her and not face all this crap about X,Y, or Z". You really do not know what other kinds of discrimination, insecurity, or feeling of persecution that other person is going through.

Anonymous said...

Random points:

1. Many times discrimination (like many other things) is a characteristic of a Group-of-people and not an individual (Group-of-people is not same as sum of individuals). Infact, I would say that often we discriminate against someone only to give a false impression of ourselves to people around us. Its hip to say ``I don't care what other people think of my philosphy'' but the no of people who act on it forms a set of measure zero.

2. As far as things related to gender-based discrimantion is concerned, you seem to be highliting discrimination against women more than the reverse of that. Both exists, both makes the world a hostile place, and i think one should acknowledge both of them. Talking of indian urban culture, I have lost count of times when a girl/woman gets an escape from getting disciplined for something a boy/man would not get away. Many times such things are just plain stupid things (e.g. a girl using a mobile phone in library would generally not be asked to go outside but a boy would be probably get pushed out, sorry i can't think of a better example right now), but it may act like a water dripping continuously on your forehead sometimes (yeah, I am a boy). Again many of such cases are purely the discriminator's way of giving a wrong impression of her/him to the people around us than what s/he actually is (defined here as someone's behaviour if no one was looking at that person)

3. Regd. `who determines that discrimination exists?', theoretically speaking, a third person account could also be soemtimes more useful. S/he (denoted by C) can look at X's bahaviour towards two objects A and B and determine whether X behaved differently in an unreasonale manner. Ofcourse you can again question honesty, credibility etc. but all things being equal (thats why `theoretically speaking' !), C is in better position than A, B or X.

MadHat said...

@rc:

You can never really prevent somebody from thinking racist, you can only prevent someone from acting racist. That is what we must and can do.

Really? A powerful way of controlling people's thoughts is media, advertisements and pop culture. Why do you think women (and some men) go to such lengths to look 'young' and 'beautiful'?
But I see what you are trying to say. You cannot stop an already racist person from thinking racist thoughts but you definitely can mould people not to think racist thoughts. What you suggest is akin to treating the symptoms and not the disease.

You can never really relate to another persons so called "lack of discrimination". You might be tempted to think, "Gee I wish I could be like him/her and not face all this crap about X,Y, or Z". You really do not know what other kinds of discrimination, insecurity, or feeling of persecution that other person is going through.

Actually, I am talking about group's of people, not individual. Some groups are privileged, respspected and given a higher pedestal by dint of their birth in a community. There might be individuals in that community who do go through discrimination of another sort but that does not take away their privilieges that they take for granted.

@anon:

1. Infact, I would say that often we discriminate against someone only to give a false impression of ourselves to people around us.

uh? what? Sorry, your analogy does not explain this statement.

2. Ok. let me ask you a question or rather ask yourselves this question. Are men taught that they are inferior to women? Arnt men given all the best resources, the best education, pampered and made to feel as if they are the king of the world (literally by calling them 'mera raja')? Discrimination against men? Where do you get that?

3. Even theoretically speaking, C cannot. You are assuming that things are perceivable by everyone.

Let us see...
a. assumed my gender - **check**
b. "oh! but men suffer too" - **check**
c. called me a feminazi - **waiting**

I am waiting...

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