Discrimination does not always have to be obvious. Learn more in this Buzzle piece, which explains overt and covert discrimination, using their examples.
Despite making up only 13% of the population, half of the individuals executed in the US in 2014 were African-Americans.
Discrimination is a sad phenomenon, where certain individuals or groups receive unfair treatment just because they have a different gender, age, sexuality, race, ethnicity, or nationality, as compared to the dominant group. While this concept has traditionally been used in regard to racial prejudice, it is equally applicable for gender discrimination at the workplace as more women rise up the professional ladder, and religious discrimination as Western society struggles to grapple with terrorism on one hand and an increasing number of migrants on the other.
Whether it is in one form or the other, discrimination scars the mind of the victim forever, and leaves behind a fragmented society. Hardly a new phenomenon, it formed the basis for the historic subjugation of many a culture by another. In contrast to what most believe, this social evil is far from dead even in this era of political correctness. It still lingers around, though in a more subtle form. To understand the effects of this phenomenon better, let us see the differences between covert and overt discrimination.
What Does it Mean?
Overt discrimination includes any direct or ‘overt’ act that aims to give unequal treatment to an individual or group, based on their age, gender, sexuality, skin color, ethnicity, or nationality. Such discrimination is often done intentionally, with a malicious motive, such as causing injury or death to the victim, denying rights, or excluding him/her from the privileges of society.
♦ It is an intentional form of discrimination, with the perpetrator having full knowledge of his/her actions.
♦ It involves blatant or direct acts of discrimination.
♦ This has been the most common form of discrimination since historic times.
♦ Due to the evolving social structure and strong laws, this phenomenon is likely to be frowned upon by modern society and punished by law.
♦ Such forms of discrimination are rarely observed today, though they are giving way to more subtle or covert forms of discrimination.
Racial discrimination is one of the oldest forms of overt discrimination. When European superpowers began annexing colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, they used the notion of white racial superiority to justify their oppression of the natives. When slavery was outlawed in the United States after the Civil War, almost every aspect of life, including education, housing, employment, and public facilities was segregated between the whites and African-Americans. The lynching of African-Americans in the South is another historic example of overt discrimination.
❑ Any laws which directly discriminates against a particular minority group, such as the 19th century Jim Crow Laws for racial segregation.
❑ Hate crimes, in which individuals of a certain race or religion are physically assaulted.
❑ Sexual or verbal assaults on female employees, to deny them equal rights at the workplace.
❑ Acts of vandalism, where religious sites or personal property belonging to certain groups are damaged.
What Does it Mean?
As opposed to overt discrimination, covert discrimination involves subtle or passive acts of prejudice. Such actions are hard to prove, since they may be cloaked by rational or nondiscriminatory reasons. These acts may be done intentionally, or even accidentally, in which case they may be a result of the perpetrator’s subconscious beliefs.
♦ Covert discrimination may be either intentional or unintentional.
♦ Such behavior is clearly visible but rarely noticed, because it adheres to accepted social norms.
♦ It can involve both, verbal and behavioral actions.
♦ This phenomenon is mostly restricted to individual perpetrators, rather than entire organizations.
♦ This form of discrimination has become more common, as overt forms of discrimination are seen as politically incorrect.
What is the Psychology Behind it?
As any form of discrimination is likely to earn the disapproval of society; most people want to be seen as egalitarian. However, it is natural human tendency to associate with a group, and subconsciously develop positive beliefs for the group one belongs to, while regarding everyone else an belonging to another group. However, with time, such people realize that they have such inherent prejudices. Whenever they encounter a person belonging to a minority group, they try hard to avoid displeasing that individual, thus behaving in a discriminatory manner. When done intentionally, the perpetrator tries to make it appear that his/her actions have a rational and nondiscriminatory basis, to avoid being seen as prejudicial.
❑ Male colleagues treating their female counterparts differently, by being extra polite or chivalrous with them.
❑ Universities making subtle changes in their admission criteria to exclude some groups from admission. These changes seem rational, or ethnically neutral, thus preventing any outrage.
❑ A group of middle-aged employees are not promoted, despite having the right qualifications, because of factors like their age, sexuality, or religion. However, they are given rational and palatable reasons for such actions.
❑ The phenomenon of ’employee tokenism’, where an organization hires a few non-white workers as ‘tokens’ to show that they are non-discriminatory.
Discrimination in any form is equally shameful. However, as can be seen, one’s behavior need not always be abusive or derogatory for it to be considered prejudicial.