Since times immemorial, humans have been subjected to prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice and discrimination can be on various counts, such as sex, class, status in society, race, ethnicity, the country one belongs to, one's profession, to name a few.
Although, in a layman's language, these terms are interchangeable and can be used in place of one another, yet, theoretically, there is a vast difference between the two.
Prejudice can be defined as the irrational attitudes, beliefs and opinions, that the members of one group have for another. Some examples of prejudice are - politicians are corrupt, blacks are inferior to whites, women are a weaker sex, etc.
These opinions are held by a large number of people, so much so that everybody has actually started believing that they are true! Unlike discrimination, prejudices can be both positive and negative. Usually, when people start acting upon their prejudices, that discrimination comes into play.
Theoretically, discrimination can be defined as the behavior, mostly negative, that a person or a group of people display, when they are prejudiced against other groups of people. Thus, in a way, discrimination finds its roots in prejudice. While prejudice is in one's mind, discrimination can be seen through one's behavior, speech and actions.
There are a number of factors that are responsible for the various prejudices that are prevalent in the society today. The most important of these factors is socialization. As a child grows up, he picks up various things, behavior, opinions, ways of living, along the way, by looking at his parents, peers, teachers and others that he comes in contact with.
Today, the media too plays an important part in the process of socialization. Most of the prejudices, such as stereotyping certain ethnic groups, women, homosexuals, etc., is learned during this process of socialization itself. That's why, prejudices have been passed from one generation to another and thus, have continued for so many centuries!
Besides this, some other factors that influence prejudices and discrimination are - the tendency of the people to conform to the societal norms as they fear being ostracized and losing support if they do otherwise.
Then there is conflict theory, which states that groups who have an upper hand, like to maintain the prejudices as they fear losing their superiority if they let them go. That's why, they resort to various means, like "group closure" i.e. not mixing with other groups or marrying outside, in order to maintain their distinction from others.
Lastly, ethnocentrism i.e. viewing the other groups with suspicion, or trying to judge others on the basis of one's own values, are some other factors that lead to prejudice and discrimination.
Discrimination against women candidates is very common in the workplace. Women professionals, who are working in the same position as their male counterparts, are often paid less. There are also some organizations, which take gender discrimination to another level all together, by not hiring female candidates at all!
As for prejudice examples, the most well-known is perhaps the prejudice against the minorities i.e. African Americans, Asians and Caucasians, that was prevalent in America, a few years ago. Although, this prejudice is still there, its incidence has gone down considerably in the recent years, due to education and awareness.
For a society to prosper, it is very important that all prejudices and discrimination are done away with. This although is a utopia, but is indeed achievable, if efforts are taken at individual, societal and governmental levels.
Increasing literacy, bringing together the various groups which are prejudiced against one another so that they can appreciate each other's differences and by enforcing certain laws against discrimination, these two social evils can be completely eliminated.