Prejudice is a cultural attitude that rests on negative stereotypes about individuals or groups because of their cultural, religious, racial, or ethnic background. Discrimination is the active denial of desired goals from a category of persons. A category can be based on sex, ethnicity, nationality, religion, language, or class. More recently, disadvantaged groups now also include those based on gender, age, and physical disabilities.
Prejudice and discrimination are deeply imbedded at both the individual and societal levels. Attempts to eradicate prejudice and discrimination must thus deal with prevailing beliefs or ideologies, and social structure. Although there is no wide agreement as to the “cause” of prejudice and discrimination, there is a consensus that they constitute a learned behaviour. The internalization of prejudice starts with parents and, later, teachers–the groups primary in the formation of attitudes within children.
The media and social institutions solidify prejudicial attitudes, giving them social legitimacy. In a sense, it is incorrect to speak of “eradicating” prejudice, since prejudice is learned. At best, one can reduce prejudice and discrimination. Society looks most often to education and legislation to alleviate prejudice and discrimination–for reasons still not clearly known, inter-group contact alone is not enough to reduce prejudice. On one hand, multicultural education, whether direct or indirect, constitute the mainstay of educational efforts to eliminate prejudice.
On the other hand, the emphasis on civil rights, enlightened immigration policies, and mandates for quota hiring are the cornerstone of legal approaches to alleviating the effects of prejudice and discrimination. The most overlooked area in resolving the problems of prejudice and discrimination lies in the web of close relationships where genuine feelings of love can be fostered and strengthened. The private sphere may indeed be the last frontier where a solution to the problems of prejudice may have to be found.