Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Discrimination and Fear of the Unknown

I've often heard people say that discrimination is 'fear of the unknown' and if you educate people about a group and get them to get to know people from that group, they won't be discriminatory.
Recently, my father told me about people working for the Hudson's Bay Company who lived among Native people, married a Native woman and had children, and then when the opportunity came, they just left them to go back to Europe. Now, Native people certainly weren't 'unknown' to these people, but still, they were discriminatory against them to a rather extreme degree.
And what about slave owners? They certainly weren't unfamiliar with black people, yet few nowadays would disagree that they were discriminatory against them. In fact, it was in noerthern US and Canada, where there were much fewer black people, that they were less discriminated against (though they still were).
I think what kind of relationship they have is far more important than how much contact they have. It's a bit like stray animals - they say a cat who was born feral is easier to tame than one who was abandoned, because one cat has little knowledge of humans while the other knows from experience that humans can be nasty. If your interactions with a certain group are with you in a position where you're encouraged to think you are superior, you will tend to learn to be discriminatory against them.
Also, once you've learnt discrimination, it's hard to unlearn. You can interpret almost anything as a sign they are inferior. They treated Native customs as 'primitive'. If you value mass production and industrialization, the Native cultures would seem primitive. But that is by a rigid definition of what is good and bad.
Now, with having said that, is it any wonder that mainstreaming hasn't been a magic solution to discrimination against disabled kids? Their classmates are taught to value conformity, and they see one kid who is different. Often they see adults acting particularly patronizing and 'helpful' to that kid, more so than the others. They may even be explicitly taught to patronize and 'help' the disabled kid - see Hell Bent on Helping. So they bully the kid, exclude them, or patronizingly 'help' them. All three are discriminatory ways of behaving.
Not to say that a person who knows absolutely nothing about a group can't be discriminatory, of course.

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Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks so much on your insight on discrimination! Your experiences helped me understand more about Fear of the unknown and ultimately led to a hopeful good mark on my Discrimination in The Chrysalids presentation!

Sincerely, Lucas

7:30 PM  

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