What is the essential difference between prejudice and discrimination?

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Michael Koren eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There is a difference between prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is an attitude that a person has about a group of people or an individual. This attitude usually is not a positive attitude.

Discrimination is an action that a person or a group takes toward another person or group because of the negative beliefs that exist. Discrimination is far more impactful. With prejudice, a person or group believes something but doesn’t necessarily act upon that belief. With discrimination, a person or group takes an action that usually is harmful toward a person or a group.

Discrimination may lead to fewer economic opportunities. A person might not get a job or might not get promoted because somebody had a negative view of that person or that group. In the past, laws were passed that created unequal circumstances. For many years in our country, blacks and whites had separate facilities. While these facilities, including bathrooms, schools, and train cars, were supposed to be equal, they usually weren’t.

Discrimination is an action, usually harmful, that occurs because a person has a negative belief about a person or a group. Prejudice is a belief, usually negative, but will not always be acted upon by the individual.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The essential difference between these two things is that one of them is an attitude or a feeling while the other is an action.

Prejudice is a negative feeling towards the members of a given group.  It occurs when we prejudge all members of a group and believe that they all have some negative qualities until we see otherwise.  Discrimination is when we actually treat members of some group more poorly because of their group affiliation.  This is an action, not a belief.

Prejudice, then, is an attitude or belief.  It is possible to be prejudiced without acting on that prejudice by discriminating.  At the same time, one could discriminate (for example, because one was required to do so) without believing the other person's group is actually inferior.

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