Forms of prejudice and discrimination


  • where is it? inside a person
  • prejudgements not based on knowledge or reason
  • bias in favor of or against a group of people or person
  • emotions, attitudes or feelings that involve stereotypes
  • expectations that people will automatically behave in stereotypical ways
  • conscious or unconscious
  • overt (open) or covert (concealed)


  • where is it? outside people, in society
  • actions that deny equal access or equality of opportunity
  • historical: based on a pattern of exclusion experienced by a group over a long period of time

Two forms of discrimination**

**Remember: this distinction is made according to who or what is doing the discrimination, not who or what is affected!

Individual discrimination: the harmful action is done by one person or a small group

  • intentional: actions done on purpose to restrict someone's equal status
  • unintentional: actions done without the perpetrator(s) being aware that their actions are harmful

Institutional discrimination: the harmful action is a stable, ongoing part of society

The problem may be caused by:

  • policies or rules within institutions (e.g., governmental, business, educational)
  • invisible, unwritten codes of behavior
  • routine, informal patterns in the way people treat each other from day to day

Possible forms:

  • intentional - done with the purpose of harming or excluding people
  • unintentional - indirect forms of discrimination caused when standards or policies are created for reasons that seem fair and reasonable but they have unforeseen, harmful consequences for targeted groups and individuals


Legal issues: courts use the following sorts of considerations to determine whether discrimination is present

  • have irrelevant criteria been used?
  • has strict scrutiny been complied with?

Criteria used to make judgments about people are usually institutionally based:

  • the criteria are set by people who have institutional power and who meet the criteria themselves
  • the criteria encourage the success of people who meet them because of their cultural background, not individual merit
  • the criteria discourage the accomplishments of people who do not meet them not because of lack of individual merit but because of their cultural background

Go back to P & D course base

Created by Kathryn Russell
SUNY Cortland - Philosophy
Last modified on 8-13-99