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Did you know that those who are discriminated against discriminate too?

In conversation with a friend who has just been made redundant from a financial institution where she had worked for 15 years, she lamented that her redundancy was based on racism, as she is of Indian origin. Although it was obvious that she was not the only person to be made redundant - her entire department had closed down - she was convinced that it was her ethnicity that led to her redundancy. During our discussion she exclaimed indignantly 'All the Pakis in IT kept their jobs ... they're all related anyway'. I was horrified by her use of discriminatory language towards another minority group whilst complaining about her experience of (perceived or actual?) workplace racism. Whilst you can argue that she was venting her frustrations by lashing out, specifically targeting another minority group was uncomfortable as she was discriminating against others whilst complaining about being discriminated.

Prejudice has been defined as the negative evaluation of a group or individual on the basis of its group 'membership' (whether race, religion, sexuality etc). Prejudice is about fear - fear of the unknown, especially those who are different from us. The definition of discrimination is 'treating people less favourably' on the grounds of their difference.

This includes talking about people in a negative, adverse or dismissive manner such as name calling or making stereotypical comments. According to the United Nations, 'Discriminatory behaviour takes many forms but all involve some form of exclusion or rejection'.

When I challenged my friend about her use of language and stereotypes, her response was 'They don't know we are talking about them anyway'. She emphasised that it is not discrimination if the person(s) concerned are not aware or actually harmed by her behaviour or attitude. So if it doesn't matter, she can say whatever she wants. I reflected on her attitude and realised that some individuals, despite representing a minority group themselves, discriminate against other minority groups. This occurs even though, on the surface, the individuals from the different minority groups look like each other.

Why do some minority group members have a need to discriminate? Is it a sense of insecurity or anxiety which motivates verbal attacks on other groups? Or is it to do with positive group identification - the need to discriminate motivated through allegiance to their own group? It has been suggested that the reason for prejudice which leads to discrimination is to boost self worth whilst protecting membership of the group.

This is the essence of discrimination - formulating opinions about others not based on their individual merits but rather on their membership in a group with assumed characteristics."Film Philadelphia (1993)

My friend could have felt a sense of deprivation and therefore chose to focus her feelings onto another minority group, along the lines of 'Why them and not me'? When groups of people feel that they are losing out at the expense of other minority groups this can fuel competitive hostility. On this basis, it is not unusual for members of one minority group to discriminate against those from other groups. Sometimes they treat others with disdain and scorn. For instance, it is increasingly common to find members of minority groups, who were once immigrants themselves, embarrassed and even resentful towards other, newer immigrants and their social awkwardness / lack of language.

Cultural differences can lead to misunderstanding. One organisation specialising in catering for the Asian communities would only employ Asian staff. When it was queried whether this was acceptable (and legal) the response was that they had, in the past, employed members of the Polish community who questioned the work that they were asked to undertake. The (Asian) Management Team saw this questioning as (all) the Polish staff being argumentative and compared this against Asian workers who followed all instructions without question or argument. Despite the Asian staff making more costly mistakes than the Polish staff, the Management Team decided to employ only Asians in order to prevent any further hassle from 'other' groups. The Management Team had prejudices originating from seemingly negative interactions with members of a particular group, in this instance the Polish community. Such prejudices can distort perceptions further over time and might eventually be applied to other (Eastern) European communities.

There is no excuse for discrimination under any circumstances. Whether you are from a minority group or have experienced discrimination, the assumed right to discriminate against others or treat those from other groups badly or without respect is not acceptable. It is ironical that some individuals from minority groups claim that, because they have experienced discrimination, they do not discriminate against others whilst unthinkingly doing so.

Martin Luther King Jr's famous line 'They will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character', is highlighting that, to judge the character of another fairly, it is important to interact personally with them, without applying labels of 'the', 'they', 'their', 'all' etc.. Where there is a genuine interest and empathy in another person who is, as the Thais say, 'Same, same, different, different,' stereotyping falls out of the equation and allows people to develop honest, respectful and meaningful relationships. As a result and with hope, the type of comments made by my friend will be few and far between.

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