Prejudice is the negative attitude based on false generalizations about members of different racial and ethnic groups. From prejudice, discrimination is born. We all are guilty of discriminating other people, but one can only speculate the factors that bring about this hatred towards one another. Although a single cause cannot account for the presence of racism, factors such as socialization, self-justification, and competition are a few human attributes that lead to acts of racial discrimination.
At an early age, children begin the process of socialization. In order for one to be able to communicate with others, it is essential for one to learn to socialize with the people around them. One cause of racism is what a young child learns from his or her parents. Parents become the sole teaching source in terms of the values and beliefs that are picked up by their young and impressionable children. Vincent Parrillo, a chairperson of the Department of sociology at William Paterson College, suggests that individuals are molded by the people around them. We thus learn the prejudices of our parents and others, and they subtly become a part of our values an beliefs (563). A childs upbringing lays the foundations for their social skills and the way they interact with other ethnic groups.
Another attribute that leads to racial discrimination is the way that people find means to justify their actions by degrading the actions of others. For instance, during the Vietnam War, American soldiers assumed that civilians of small villages were aiding the Vietcong. Based on presumption, the soldiers felt justified to torture the villagers and destroy their homes. If we are able to convince ourselves that another group is inferior, immoral, or dangerous, then we can feel justified in discriminating against them, enslaving them, or even killing them (564). The American soldiers deemed the torturing of the village people reasonable by convincing themselves that it would help destroy the Vietcong. Self-justification is apparent even in todays society. Humans are always searching for excuses to justify our actions towards one another.
The need to compete for possessions, jobs, and status causes people to feel animosity towards other ethnic groups. For example, during the 1800s the Chinese occupied many of the jobs building railroads; this made the Anglo-Americans angry, they felt as if the Chinese were taking over the job market. In turn, this led the Chinese to become victims of open discrimination and hostility (571). Although the Chinese were already barred from schools and the court system, the Anglo-Americans felt that the Chinese immigrants were taking away Americans jobs. The Anglo-Americans felt threatened. It was not until the Chinese workers retreated into Chinatowns and entered specialty occupations not in competition with whites did the intense hostility abate (571).
Racism is a major problem that stems from prejudice. Hatred towards ethnic groups different from our own may be a mechanism to take out our internal frustrations on or it might just be to have someone to blame for societys problems. Some may try to convince themselves that racism no longer exists, but in fact, we live in a world full of hate toward on another. Whether it is because of a persons skin color or the religion that one chooses to follow, mankind is socialized to develop bias opinions of the other group. Maybe it is because we are afraid of opening ourselves up to others or that we feel threatened by them. Shelby Steele, a researcher at Stanford University says, What Americans fear are the sacrifices and risks that true racial harmony demands (622). People filter their perceptions of the world and other people through their own past experiences, this may lead to categorizing individuals solely based on appearance rather than actually getting to know the person. People are afraid of change because it makes the person vulnerable, but even though fear seeks a thousand justifications, non is ever good enough, and the problems we run from only remain to haunt us (622).