Magazine article Poverty & Race

Structural Discrimination: An International Perspective

Magazine article Poverty & Race

Structural Discrimination: An International Perspective

Article excerpt

Discrimination started with slavery and genocide. With the absolute deprivation of the right to be considered a human being. Such deprivation excluded groups of people from the human family and from everything connected with making one's own decisions because of belonging to a specific race, religion, sex, etc.

Discrimination nowdays is not as violent, but it is still about deprivation of basic rights and about differential treatment of human beings because of their characteristics or origin. Since the early 1990s, much of the theoretical work on discrimination has attempted to make visible the many ways in which discrimination occurs beyond the forms of deliberate exclusion. Hence, three types of discrimination have been identified: Individual, Institutional, and Structural.

I want to speak about structural discrimination- the new dark star in the discriminatory sky.

Structural discrimination primarily relates to the ways in which the common behavior and equal legislation and the same norms for everybody can affect, and obscure, discriminatory intent. Such discrimination may be either open or hidden, and it could occur intentionally or unintentionally. Structural discrimination is about "them" and "us."

There are three essential components to structural discrimination:

A. Equal treatment of people with different status

* The equal treatment could be discriminatory when we are working with people with different statuses. This often happen with people who are historically, by tradition or as a result of common behavior based on long-lasting stereotypes and prejudices, placed in a disadvantaged position. As an example: All people living in towns should have heating devices based on solar collectors. This is for everybody, the same rule, and, also a good rule. In my country (Republic of Macedonia), the result would be that a significant number of Roma people would have to leave towns, as they would not have the money to pay for this change. Really, it is the same for all poor people (Roma and nonRoma); however, if we have in mind that 90% of Roma are poor, then it is clear that segregation on the basis of ethnicity will occur. At this point we are entering the discussion of the historic background and previous discrimination which placed Roma people in this position. At the same time, we are entering the space of structural discrimination. Namely, segregation will result in: further continuation of prejudices, disadvantage concerning the availability of cultural, educational and other services, worse living conditions, and further geographic marginalization.

* When the specific conditions required to access certain jobs, career development, education, services, etc. are the same for everybody, this could lead to structural discrimination. If these conditions or rules can only be met by a small number of people from a specific group, then the existence of this condition or rule, provided it is not an essential criterion for specific jobs, career development, education, services, etc., indicates the presence of structural discrimination. For example: To become a police officer, you must be more than 1 .70 cm tall. Most women and many people from some ethnicities will be excluded from the possibility to get this job.

B. Common behavior (expectations or behavior)

Structural discrimination is based on tradition, religion and social acceptability. The key phrases associated with structural discrimination are: This is the "way it was always done," "the way everybody acts," "the way that is accepted by the majority and nobody will blame me if I behave like this." When an individual or an institution acts in accordance with a society's prevailing norms and preconceived notions concerning specific groups (ethnic, religious, age, gender, etc.), with negative impact on the members of these groups, we can assume that it is a question of structural discrimination.

* Common behavior is constituted of: tradition (it is exactly as my grandpa and grandma were doing), religion (it is settled in the holy book), and socio-acceptable behavior (everybody is doing this). …

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