Cultural Prejudice & Discrimination
Cultural prejudice and discrimination continue to present complex challenges in American society. One of the great barriers to tackling issues of racial discrimination in the United States is the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slavery Trade. The effects of slavery were not resolved with emancipation or with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Prejudice and discrimination against people of color persists in America today. Along with problems experienced by African-Americans, people of other cultural backgrounds such as Jewish people, Hispanic-Americans, people with disabilities, and many others have experienced widespread discrimination. America's immigration policy introduced millions of people into the country, but also resulted in increased prejudice and discrimination among disparate cultures.
Keywords Affirmative Action; Anti-Semitism; Civil Rights Act of 1964; Emancipation Proclamation; Discrimination; Holocaust; Islamaphobia; Patriot Act; Prejudice; Profiling; Racism; Scapegoating; Stereotyping; Zionism
Prejudice is the belief or perception that people of different cultures are inferior or have negative characteristics because of their skin color, religious belifs, or cultural background. Discrimination is the act of denying someone their rights on the basis of prejudice.
The Impact of Slavery
In the United States, the legacy of slavery has resulted in tremendous suffering. The social and political upheaval caused by slavery led to the Civil War, one of the bloodiest chapters in American history. When emancipation came, 350 years of abuse and enslavement could not be easily forgotten. On January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln abolished slavery, but African-Americans continued to suffer from discrimination well into the 20th century and after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
From 1863 until 1964, America was a segregated society. African-Americans were forced to sit at the back of buses, were prevented from attending white schools, had to drink at separate water fountains, eat in racially-designated restaurants Moreover, African-Americans were prevented from attending certain universities, colleges and from hold various forms of employment.
Landmark legislative efforts have helped to reverse the legacy of prejudice and discrimination suffered by African-Americans. Affirmative action initiatives have worked to redress the inequality African-Americans have faced in education, housing and employment.
When British settlers first landed in North America, they appropriated land from Native Americans. Untold numbers of Native Americans were slaughtered or forced to relocate as a result of British and American colonization. Some Native American stereotypes remain prevalent. Many television programs and movies continue to portray Native Americans in a negative or stereotypical light, perpetuating false and romanticized images.
History textbooks that discuss the European discovery of the Americas often reveal a Eurocentric bias that disregards the histories of the Indigenous nations of North America. Books and videos that exploit Native American cultural and spiritual traditions for profit. Some 'New Age' spiritual guides commit this error, which many Native Americans find offensive (Almeida, 1996, p. 4).
Although Jewish people are well integrated into American life they still face prejudice and discrimination. Cohen (2008) states, "Anti-Semitism is a form of race or national prejudice that crystallized in the nineteenth century." (Cohen, 2008, pp. 48-49).
Historical stereotypes of Jews are deeply ingrained in Western culture. Research suggests that one of the reasons for prejudice against Jewish people is that some Christians have developed and promulgated the misconception that Judaism challenges the values of Christianity.
Although Friedman (2007) does not necessarily disagree with this theory, he states that prejudice and discrimination are an innate part of the human condition. It is his belief that they have always been a part of human society.
Friedman (2007) theorizes that scapegoats and prejudicial stereotyping is psychologically based. He cites the fact that societies usually develop scapegoats and strong prejudicial beliefs about certain minority groups during difficult social and economic times. He goes on to state that even the most rational person can develop prejudicial attitudes under stress. Times of great stress and economic uncertainty can lead people to become less logical, even paranoid, and at risk for developing prejudicial attitudes. Discriminatory acts can and often do follow.
Media Stereotyping: Islamaphobia
The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 caused a nationwide increase in discrimination against Arab-Americans. In response to the fact that the attacks were undertaken by Islamic fundamentalists, political organizations and individuals throughout America chose to take out their anger on the larger American Islamic community. Many Muslim Americans were forced into the position of defending their faith and themselves. Verma (2005), a teacher of South Asian background comments on the ways in which Arab-Americans and Arabic people in general have been the victims of prejudice since 9/11: "I have observed trends in television, radio, and print media that saturate popular culture with images of terror and war and encourage racial stereotyping" (Verma, 2005, p. 12).
One of the more damaging and unfortunate results of 9/11 has been the stereotyping of people of Arabic background; assumptions made about their culture based on the actions of a few people. As Verma states, segments of American media culture engaged in a dramatic spectacle and a disinformation campaign that dehumanizes and victimizes Arabs and portrays stereotypical images of the "civilized West" and "barbaric Arabs." Rallying and mobilizing fear of this fabricated vision of evil, these representations contribute to a discourse of violence against Arabs and others who resemble them (Verma, 2005, p. 12).
Other individuals, people of color who may look Arabic are also being discriminated against. This is the insidious way in which stereotyping works. A negative perception is developed, it becomes embedded in popular culture through the media (and especially today with the widespread and immediate power of the Internet) and the stereotype becomes real to far too many people. Verma (2005) points out that one of the more dangerous symptoms of stereotyping and prejudice is hate crimes.
Salaita (2005) suggests that the passage of the Patriot Act contributed to making Arab-Americans feel discriminated against and unwanted in America. Suddenly, the spotlight was on them to defend themselves even if they had not done anything. He also suggests that many feel their patriotism towards America is being questioned and they are often discriminated against with the use of racial profiling. People of...
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