Prejudice refers to an attitude and belief that one group of people is in some way inferior to another. The word "prejudice" comes from the Latin roots "prae" (in advance) and "judicum" (judgment), which essentially means to judge before. When we "pre-judge" someone, we make up our minds about who they are before we actually get to know them. Prejudices -- or "pre-judgments" -- are not based upon actual real-life interaction with a person or group. Prejudice is often born of stereotypes and forms the fertile soil of discrimination. Different kinds of prejudice lead to different forms of discrimination.
Gender stereotype refers to the attitude that all members of a particular gender -- all women, all girls, all men, all boys -- are a certain type of person. From this stereotype emerges sexism -- the belief that members of one gender are inferior to another. For example, the attitude that girls don't understand math and science as well as boys do is based on a long-held stereotype about basic female intelligence. When schools then choose to make math and science programs available for boys but not girls, they are acting on these prejudices and discriminating against girls by limiting their right to equal education opportunities.
Racial/Ethnic Minority Prejudice
When the owner of a large hotel chain chooses not to employ those of a certain race or ethnicity because he believes they are in some way inferior to another, he is discriminating based upon a specific kind of prejudice called racism. He has not taken the time to get to know individuals in this minority group, and is "pre-judging" them as inferior based on generalizations and stereotypes.
Immigrants, Refugees and Gypsy Populations
Often linked with racial prejudice, attitudes toward immigrants, refugees and nomadic populations can also constitute prejudice and can form the basis of legislation that discriminates against these groups. The underlying belief is that these people "are not from here," and are thus viewed as "the other" and inferior. This particular kind of attitude -- the fear of foreigners -- is called xenophobia. For example, at the turn of the 20th century in the U.S., there were deeply held prejudices against the most recent immigrant group to arrive to our shores. But this xenophobic attitude toward new immigrant groups still exists today, toward immigrants from Latin America. In Europe, the Roma remain one of the most persecuted minority groups.
When townships and states pass laws limiting the rights of children to participate in legislation that might affect them, they are acting on an age prejudice -- or ageism. In this case, the belief is that those below a certain age cannot understand or contribute meaningfully to lawmaking dialogues. Conversely, when an elder-care facility refuses to install Internet technology because of the belief that older people don't have the energy or ability to learn web navigation, they are acting upon ageism.
Sexual Orientation Prejudice
Prejudging someone because of their sexual orientation is called homophobia, and it's often based on the stereotype that all gay men or lesbians are a certain way and thus inferior. Also commonly lumped in this category are people's attitudes towards transgender or transsexual individuals, even though these are genders and not sexual orientations. Individuals who exist somewhere along the gender continuum but who defy being classified as either male or female are often the victims of prejudice.
Classism is the belief or attitude that those of a certain economic class are inferior to another class. In some government structures, classism is employed by the ruling class as a basis to limit the rights of the lower class. For instance, by not extending funding to repair and renovate old schools or build new ones in low-income communities, the ruling class is sending the message that lower-class individuals are not entitled to quality education opportunities.
Ableism refers to the belief that those with physical or mental disabilities or handicaps are inferior to able-bodied people. Discrimination against the disabled is born of this belief and involves limiting the rights of disabled individuals to basic things that able-bodied people take for granted, such as adequate housing, health care, employment and education.
- Etymonline: Prejudice
- Remember.org: Stereotypes and Prejudices
- Understanding Prejudice: Linking Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination
- Understanding Prejudice: Attitudes toward Minorities. Gill Valentine & Ian McDonald.
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images