Consequences of Prejudice

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Consequences of Prejudice

Like the wide variety of prejudices that exist in societies around the world, the consequences of the prejudices and the behavior influenced by them are similarly varied. Prejudice affects the everyday lives of millions of people across the globe. Prejudice held by individuals unnaturally forces on others who are targets of their prejudice a false social status that strongly influences who they are, what they think, and even the actions they take. Prejudice shapes what the targets of prejudice think about the world and life in general, about the people around them, and how they feel about themselves. Importantly, prejudice greatly influences what people expect from the future and how they feel about their chances for self-improvement, referred to as their life chances. All of these considerations define their very identity as individuals.

People acting out their prejudices cause domestic violence, crime, death, and the loss of billions of dollars in lost productivity, property loss, and expense to society, such as cost of court trials and social services provided to victims including psychological counseling, in dealing with dysfunctional (abnormal behavior) elements of society. Other prejudicial behavior, such as male teachers favoring calling on male students in a classroom, may be more subtle (less obvious). But its effect can be just as broad-sweeping as the more violent consequences of prejudice. Opportunities in life are lost and personal relationships damaged when people act upon their prejudice. When not acknowledged and confronted, prejudice negatively impacts the lives not only of the victims, but of those holding the prejudice.

Prejudice can impose very dramatic barriers or invisible barriers on individuals. For example, in the United States, many children are raised with certain beliefs, one being the American Dream. The children are taught if they apply themselves and work hard enough and set their sights on what they want most, they can achieve it by persistence. They are not taught about certain social barriers, such as racial or gender discrimination in hiring or in job promotions, that may present themselves throughout their lives that counter the progress made by solid work habits.


Treating some people differently than others or favoring one social group over another based on prejudices.
displaced persons:
People forced to leave their homes, either entering other countries becoming refugees or remaining in their own country at some other safer location.
People who cross international boundaries either to escape prejudice and persecution or environmental crises, such as prolonged droughts, in their home countries.
A deliberate destruction of a political or cultural human group.
hate crime:
A violent attack against a person or group because of their race, ethnicity, religion, or gender.
A negative attitude towards others based on a prejudgment about those individuals with no prior knowledge or experience.
A feeling of shame or of lesser social value than others.

Everyday prejudices

Since multiple prejudices are present throughout society in a complex way, at minimum, the consequences of prejudice are always present in subtle, if not more obvious, ways. For example, because people are largely aware of the prejudices held by others toward them, the prejudice has a self-fulfilling effect. This means people behave the way others expect them to behave. Similarly, people holding a prejudice treat others differently based on how the person with prejudices expects the others to behave or how the person with prejudices wants the others to behave. These behavioral expectations are often based on stereotypes. Stereotypes are an oversimplified prejudgment of others using physical or behavioral characteristics, usually exaggerated, that supposedly apply to every member of that group. In addition, people behave differently from person to person when interacting with others, depending on whether they expect hostility from others either in attitude or in action. Studies have shown that a person targeted by stereotype expectations held by others may end up behaving as the stereotype. More generally, a person is likely to behave as the other person expects him to behave. All of these behaviors mean that prejudice, or anticipated prejudices, affect everyday interactions with almost everyone a person comes in contact with.

Consequences of everyday prejudice go beyond simply shaping relationships between people. People are relentlessly assaulted by value judgments based on skin color, social class, gender, religious affiliation, political views, and so on. Such constant exposure to ridicule and discrimination leads to a lowered self-esteem. Those subjected to such prejudice become unsure where they belong in society. They develop hatred and anger directed both outwardly at those holding prejudices against them and inwardly for having the supposed traits that attract such prejudices. Such prejudices are destructive of individuals and society. But they extract a hidden cost as well by prohibiting individuals from living up to their true potential.

Very small but harmful prejudicial actions can create barriers for entire populations, such as women or minorities, seeking to enjoy the benefits of participating in mainstream society. Often these actions are unintentional, caused by prejudices a person is little aware he has. However, many times they are intentional acts meant to degrade another person considered inferior. It is sometimes difficult to determine if an act is unintended and simply insensitive or meant as intentional hostility. Regardless of intentions, the consequence of action is often the same. Many times the person who is the target of such prejudicial actions is placed in difficult situations. Any protest he or she might make of such prejudicial actions would give the appearance of oversensitivity and possibly incite further reaction from the initiator. For example, a woman may be placed in an awkward situation when she is congratulated for offering a solution to a technical engineering problem as if such an idea would not be normally expected of a woman.

The person targeted by prejudicial actions is not the only person affected. Prejudice affects the behavior of the person holding the prejudice as well. That person may harbor anxieties or anger, or alter his normal activity because of the prejudice he feels for someone else. Such feelings of prejudice can lead to alcohol and substance abuse just as for people who are the targets of prejudice.

Creation of stigma

Insensitive actions and the projection of stereotypes onto other people can create a stigma (a feeling of shame or lessened social value). The stigma shapes how the target group behaves when in future contact with the dominant group. Anxiety is created within the stigmatized person, and her personal expectations of her life chances are lowered.

People in a group devalued due to prejudices against them are placed in a no-win situation. If their behavior does not conform to expected behavior or society's norms, or standards, they are considered deviant. The dominant group considers the deviance a result of some psychological or physical problem or defect. The person targeted by prejudice becomes stigmatized. If the targeted, or subordinate, group adopts the behavior of the dominant group so as to escape prejudice, then a person's own group may consider him deviant. For example, African Americans have labeled blacks who adopt white dominant cultural behaviors, such as joining certain automotive clubs, as Uncle Toms (black people who are perceived by other blacks as being too submissive to whites) or Oreos (blacks who have behavior patterns that are perceived by some to be typical of white people).

Stigmas lead to marginalization, meaning a person or group becomes isolated from mainstream society and excluded from protections others may take for granted, such as due process of the law (legal protections through established formal procedures). International human rights watch groups see war and genocide as the extreme forms of marginalization, in which people are viewed as the enemy and devalued as humans. They may even be considered subhuman. Less extreme results of marginalization lead to poverty, poor health, lack of education, and unemployment. Racism (prejudice against people of color) and sexual orientation prejudice (a negative attitude toward persons because of the sexual preferences) are two common forms of marginalization. Populations in Third World (nations lagging in economic development) countries are marginalized to the extent that they are allowed to die from hunger and disease in large numbers with little assistance from more affluent societies.

Health consequences

One of the most basic needs in life is maintaining physical health. However, due to prejudice, the condition of people around the world is largely influenced by their perceived race, ethnicity, gender, social class, and sexual orientation. Those trapped in low-income areas with prejudicial barriers to jobs and education opportunities are significantly more likely to suffer health problems. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2006 the overall life expectancy of Americans, French, and British was seventy-eight years. However, life expectancy differed among the various races and ethnic groups within these Western nations. For example, in the United States most racial minorities had shorter expected life spans than whites. African Americans' life expectancy was five years shorter than whites.

Those in lower economic classes suffered greater chronic diseases, such as heart disease, lung cancer, and diabetes, all of which contributed to the lower life expectancy, according to Charles E. Hurst in the 2004 book Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. Health problems from the work environment of lower-paying jobs included greater exposure to such hazards as lead poisoning, greater occurrence of injury, and increased chances of eventually developing arthritis from the physical labor. The death rate from injury among low-income males was over three times higher than persons in higher social classes. Not only were the occurrences of disease greater, but the prospects of death from the disease were greater. For example, black females in low-economic situations had the shortest survival period and highest death rate from breast cancer as compared to the white females in the population.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Office of Minority Health, among blacks trapped in impoverished neighborhoods with little access to education and jobs, the infant mortality rate in 2000 was at a rate of 14.1 deaths per 1,000 births, a rate more than double that of whites living in more affluent suburbs, which was 6.9 deaths per 1,000 births. According to the CDC in 2000, the rate of AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome; a condition of immune deficiency associated with infection of the immune system cells) among black men in America was six times greater than among white men and nineteen times higher among black women than white women.

Loss of self-esteem among minorities trapped in low-income communities led to greater alcohol and drug abuse and smoking of tobacco. These self-destructive behaviors led to greater health problems including cardiovascular disease. According to Hurst, the greater the economic inequality in a community, the greater the incidence of suicide in the subordinate, or secondary, groups. Overall, those trapped in conditions of low income and little chance for self-improvement were less likely to live healthy lifestyles.

Those individuals diagnosed with mental health issues were found more frequently among women, the unemployed, and the impoverished. Among women with limited opportunities to the education and employment that they desired, cases of mental depression occurred with greater frequency than in society in general. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 1998 women were two to three times more likely to suffer major depression than men. This trend had been documented in various nations including the United States, Sweden, Germany, Canada, and New Zealand. Other chronic health conditions also surfaced such as various digestive problems, anemia, and migraine headaches.

Hurst highlighted that racial minorities and low-income social classes (groups of people sharing similar wealth and social standing) were much less satisfied with their personal lives, housing, jobs, and free time. This dissatisfaction built through a lifespan frequently leading to increased health problems in later life. For example, people must have a feeling of control over their lives to give them greater chances for favorable mental health. This feeling of satisfaction also led to greater economic productivity and increased contributions to society in general. Feelings of powerlessness came from being in jobs of repetitive work with little complexity and close supervision. Education was often seen as the gateway to increasing a person's control over his life chances at jobs and personal fulfillment. Therefore, restrictions established by prejudices and discrimination led to feelings of powerlessness and, eventually, despair. People were financially unable to leave their low-income neighborhoods where streets were filthy and dangerous. Prejudice, poverty, and despair were very closely linked and formed a cycle from which it was nearly impossible to break free. Economic costs to society resulting from lost personal potential due to prejudice would likely be staggering if they could be calculated.


Loss of self-esteem and hope for future betterment contributes to criminal behavior. Though crime occurs in all classes of society, such as white-collar crime in the upper classes, social class position influences the type of crime that someone will commit. Through violent and property crimes committed by lower classes, not only is there a loss of productivity to the community, but other costs associated with crime include the expenses of police in crime-fighting activity. The percentage of policing funds spent in the world and the percentage of costs of losses from criminal activity triggered by various form of prejudice would be difficult to calculate from crime statistics kept, but they would likely be considerable.

Not only does prejudice contribute to criminal behavior, prejudice also influences how crime is fought. According to Willard M. Oliver in his 2001 book Community-Oriented Policing: A Systematic Approach to Policing, police departments in various Western countries often have their own prejudices. Police on routine patrol often spend more time patrolling in low-income neighborhoods, which usually contain a high percentage of racial minorities. Despite this increase in patrol time in minority communities, actual response time to reported crimes against minorities in these same low-income neighborhoods is often much slower than in upper-class neighborhoods. Residential areas in the United States and France remain highly racially segregated (to publicly keep separate social groups based on physical characteristics, such as skin color), with minorities concentrated in overcrowded city settings. Single-parent families are prevalent with many members of the minority community living on welfare programs. Opportunities for education and jobs seem remote to many. Such segregation maintains these education and job limitations on minorities, with little chance for improvement despite individual capabilities and achievements. Minorities in these communities cannot enjoy the benefits of social mobility (the amount of opportunity a person has in a particular society to change social standing from one social class to another) from their achievements like whites living in white-dominated communities. Such non-minority neighborhoods have strong social controls to combat crime tendencies. With little to gain from individual achievement, racial minorities often feel little attachment to society in general, including its values and social controls. As a result, crime rates are often related to poverty and unemployment, especially crimes against property, such as burglary and motor vehicle theft. Oliver further points out that the greater the economic inequality in the form of discrimination in a particular community, the higher the violent crime rates. Violent crimes are linked more to greater social class prejudicial inequality than racial prejudice. The feelings of powerlessness, anger, anxiety, and alienation lead to aggressive behavior.

These geographic concentrations of minorities and others with low social-class status means that minorities and low income people not only suffer the direct effects of prejudice and discrimination, but also are more likely to become victims of crime propelled by racial and economic segregation and discrimination. For example, according to author Katheryn Russell in the 1998 book The Color of Crime, the chances of a young black male becoming a victim of homicide were ten times greater than for white youth in the United States at the end of the twentieth century.

Not only do minorities and low-income communities become crime victims at a higher rate than whites, but that crime rate is often inflated (considered higher) further in the minds of others. Perceptions of racial groups held by those in the dominant white society often feed fears and perceptions of crime rates. A high percentage of minorities in a neighborhood creates a higher perception of crime rates—usually much greater than what the crime rates actually are. Fear of becoming a crime victim greatly influences people's behavior. They spend more money on security gadgets and systems for their homes and cars. It also influences their behavior patterns about when and where they may go to visit stores, friends, or places of entertainment.

Additionally, the bias of policing leads to another cost of prejudice and that is minorities' distrust of not only police, but of the criminal justice system in general. This distrust was evidenced by riots in Los Angeles, California, in 1992 after a jury acquitted police officers in the beating of black motorist Rodney King (1965–), an event that was captured on home video, and by riots in France in October 2005 when two minority youths died while being chased by police. King was severely beaten for what appeared to be a traffic violation. The French riots grew out of decades of accusations of police brutality toward minorities.

Statistics indicate that minorities are affected by prejudice in the criminal justice system beyond policing activities. Minorities are six times more likely than whites to receive more severe sentences—including the death penalty—for committing the same crimes. Similarly, the murder of white victims in the later decades of the twentieth century more often led to death sentences than when blacks were the homicide victim. Advocates for minorities charge that these statistics show that the criminal justice system devalues black victims, meaning they are considered less important than white victims. The factors of gender and social class follow similar trends in criminal justice. Women and low-income victims frequently see their aggressors penalized less severely than do men and upper-class victims.

A tragic consequence of the marginalization of minorities and the underclass created by prejudice and discrimination is that a crime cycle develops. This cycle consists of minorities and unemployed developing crime records. These crime records then hurt the criminals' future chances of being employed, which may lead again to more crime or, if they do not revert to a life of crime, they remain in poor-paying jobs with a dead-end future.

Domestic violence

A major consequence of prejudice is violence. The scale of violence can vary greatly, ranging from occurrences of domestic violence to mass murder (genocide). Domestic violence is when a family member, partner, or ex-partner physically or psychologically harms or harasses another family member. Aside from physical contact and child abuse, domestic violence can include intimidation and threats of violence. This intimidation can take the form of stalking (harassing someone by relentlessly pursuing her). Domestic violence is often driven by frustrations of lack of economic opportunity due to prejudice and discrimination, and the resulting feelings of powerlessness. It is frequently further fueled by drug and alcohol abuse, which is also often a result of domestic result. Unemployment, health problems, isolation from society in general, and lower education are all factors of domestic violence. The pressures and frustrations resulting from discrimination mount up for those trapped in low social class conditions.

Domestic violence leads to costs for private assistance organizations and governmental social services for both the victim and abuser in addition to costs of police and court time. Studies in the late twentieth century indicate that only about one-third of cases of actual domestic violence are actually reported in the United States and Britain. In other countries where public awareness of domestic violence is much lower, the rate of reporting is probably even lower. According to Charles E. Hurst in Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences, in 2000, it was estimated that domestic abuse affected 10 percent of the population in the United States, or approximately thirty-two million Americans including children.

Like most consequences of prejudice and discrimination, domestic violence has long-range implications. Children often grow up with behavior patterns learned from their home life. Those who witnessed domestic violence and abuse or were victims of abuse could grow into adults having very similar behavior patterns.

The dollar cost of domestic violence is huge. In the United States, $3 to $5 billion was annually spent in the late 1990s on medical expenses resulting from domestic violence. Sick leave, absenteeism, and lost productivity resulting from domestic abuse was estimated to be $100 million annually to U.S. businesses in the late 1990s.

Social protests

Prejudice and discrimination leads to organized social protests—and sometimes, confrontations—by the targeted groups. Prime examples of this involved the events surrounding the civil rights and women's rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Property damage, loss of life, policing expenses, and lost job productivity were extensive costs of the protests as they lasted years and involved tens of thousands of people across many communities and cities. Labor strikes, store boycotts (protests by refusing to do business with someone), sit-ins (when protestors refuse to leave a business or public building until their demands are met), and other tactics of social disorder disrupted business productivity.

A major consequence of mass opposition to social or governmental prejudices is the loss of legitimacy of society and its institutions to those victimized by prejudice and discrimination. Laws and social customs that perpetuate prejudice undercut the very validity of the nation's social institutions. This loss of legitimacy was the reason behind the 1992 Los Angeles riots. Minorities had lost faith in police and the criminal justice system as minorities typically received longer prison sentences and harsher treatment by police than non-minorities for the same alleged offenses. Violence was seen as the only means to increase public awareness of these inequalities in society. Over 150 race riots were recorded in the United States between 1960 and 1993. In the 1992 Los Angeles riots fifty-two people died and over $800 million of damage occurred including the destruction of 1,100 buildings.

Broad conflicts over prejudices can lead to social instability. During these times of peak protest activity, society lives with a tension in which any minor incident could trigger a major explosion of violence.

Displaced persons

Prejudices can lead to consequences on a large scale. The term "displaced persons" came into use during World War II (1939–45). A massive relocation of populations during the late 1930s and early 1940s resulted from the combination of international war and genocide. Basically anyone forced to leave his home, regardless of reason, became a displaced person. It was estimated in the early twenty-first century that approximately twenty-five million displaced persons who did not cross international boundaries existed in the world. Many were in various African and Middle Eastern countries where ethnic conflict was rampant.

Those who cross international boundaries either due to prejudice and persecution or environmental crises in their home countries, such as prolonged droughts, are called refugees. The most common reasons for people to become refugees are political and religious persecution. They fear persecution because of their race, religion, or nationality. Those trying to leave persecution behind by journeying to a new country often seek asylum (provided safety from prejudice and persecution of another nation). Many people leave their home country for another for economic reasons, such as to seek employment and permanently settle in the new country. They are known as immigrants, not refugees.

International laws apply to protection of refugees, but not to displaced persons who stay within the boundaries of their own nation. Usually they are considered the responsibility of their nation's government. Actions by any other country would be considered an unlawful intrusion on their sovereignty (independence). However, some cases arose in the late twentieth century where nations did intercede in internal atrocities. This included U.S. military intervention in the Balkan region of the Kosovo crisis in the late 1990s when Serbian forces were carrying out ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians. The U.S. intervention succeeded in stopping the mass killing. In the early twenty-first century, the government of Sudan was resisting foreign involvement in its Darfur region, where reports of genocide and dislocations were steady. The Sudanese government claimed that it was an internal conflict and any foreign intervention would be an illegal intrusion on its national sovereignty. This claim successfully kept foreign forces out.

Refugees create international problems and disputes. Some governments might readily accept refugees and ultimately grant them citizenship. Others may arrest all refugees for unauthorized entry into their country and place them in detention centers for months and maybe even years. The United Nations (UN; an international organization created to resolve conflicts in the world and provide humanitarian aid where needed) High Commissioner originally sought in the 1950s simply to see that refugees found safe asylum in their new country or in some other country eventually, or return voluntarily to their home country. The United Nations expanded its role through the years to provide humanitarian assistance to all displaced persons. At the beginning of 2005, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, established in December 1950 and located in Geneva, Switzerland, reported the existence of more than nine million known refugees in the world. This did not include another four million Palestinians who had become permanently displaced and were no longer officially considered refugees because of their permanent displacement.

A major result of refugees is the establishment of refugee camps. With more than nine million refugees worldwide, humanitarian emergencies result, and the camps need sanitation, food, water, clothing, and shelter. Relief organizations, such as Red Cross, spend millions of dollars in providing for the needs of refugees. Creation of large refugee camps naturally leads to major health problems inside the camps, including prevalent psychological issues. Major depression and other mental health disorders include sleeplessness and anxiety. Refugees remain in these camps sometimes for years leading to millions of dollars in costs to provide supplies such as hygiene kits, emergency shelter kits, water, and soap. Five refugee camps existed in Darfur, Sudan, alone in 2006, holding 100,000 people.

Some refugees risk their lives to ride flimsy boats or anything else that will let them float to safety from their country to another. They became known as boat people in the 1970s, when some two thousand refugees fled Vietnam by boat between 1977 and 1981 after the end of the Vietnam War (1957–75). Other large migrations by boat included people fleeing Cuba to the United States since 1960 including 125,000 in 1980 and 55,000 others fleeing Haiti to the United States between 1972 and 1981. The boats refugees commonly use are unstable crude vessels, sometimes made from scrap materials, and often overloaded. Lives are often lost on the journey to safety. For example, in 2001, 353 refugee boat people drowned trying to escape from Indonesia to Australia to escape political instability and seek better job opportunities.

The number of refugees escaping injustice based on prejudice since the early twentieth century is staggering. The occurrence of refugees in Europe in the twentieth century included 1.5 million people fleeing the new Communist government in Russia during the Russian Revolution from 1917 to 1921. (Communism is a system of government in which the state controls the economy and a single party holds power.) During World War I, over one million Armenians fled genocide in Eastern Europe (known as Turkish Asia Minor at the time). The Turk Ottoman government murdered and deported hundreds of thousands of Assyrians and Armenians accused of fighting on the side of the Allies during the war. Following the Spanish Civil War in 1939, several hundred thousand refugees fled to France. World War II led to the dislocation of twelve million Germans including Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. Between the end of World War II and construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, 3.7 million refugees fled Communist-controlled East Germany to West Germany. Immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union and eastern European Communist governments in 1991, two million people were displaced in the former Yugoslavia due to ethnic conflicts.

Refugee movements in Asia during the last half of the twentieth century included more one million refugees displaced in the 1950s by the Korean War (1950–53) and the fall of Tibet to Chinese control in 1959. One of the largest population displacements in recent world history occurred in 1947 with the political separation of India and Pakistan. Over eighteen million people were displaced, with Hindus and Sikhs leaving Pakistan for India, and Muslims leaving India for Pakistan. Another ten million were displaced in 1971 as Bengalis fled the newly established Bangladesh to India. Three million people were displaced in Indochina—largely from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia—following the end of the Vietnam War and the rise of Communist governments. The Afghan War (1978–92) caused six million refugees to flee to Pakistan and Iran. They were joined in Iran with 1.4 million Iraqi refugees from the Persian Gulf War (1990–91).

The African continent saw repeated population movements in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. They resulted from civil wars and ethnic conflicts following removal of colonial rule after World War II. Africa had been divided into colonies by European nations in the 1880s. This led to the establishment of new national boundaries. When Africans gained independence in many of the colonies following World War II, wars erupted. The new nations fought to establish revised boundaries to match their native homelands that existed prior to the 1880s or they purged other ethnicities from their new nations through genocide or ethnic cleansing. The number of refugees in Africa grew from 860,000 in 1968 to almost seven million in 1992. Many more millions were displaced within their own countries. The resulting refugee and displaced persons camps became fertile grounds for the rise of armed rebel groups who sought to regain their lost lands. For example, the 1994 Rwandan genocide caused two million refugees to flee, mostly to Zaire. Hutu rebels, in reaction to the ethnic Tutsi regaining control of the Rwandan government and expelling ethnic Hutu, launched attacks from the refugee camps against the new government of Rwanda.

Political stability in some areas of Africa by the early twenty-first century led to a decline in refugee numbers from seven million to less than 2.8 million refugees at the beginning of 2005. The greatest number of African refugees in 2005 and 2006 were from Sudan. Many fled from the Darfur region to neighboring Chad, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Kenya to escape ethnic cleansing being carried out by Muslims controlling the Sudanese government against black African populations within Sudan.

The Western Hemisphere of the Americas was not without its large refugee movements as well. The 1960s and 1970s saw many boat people fleeing Cuba following the rise of the dictatorship, or tyrannical rule, of Fidel Castro (1926–). Some 55,000 refugees fled Haiti by boat between 1972 and 1981 to the United States. The refugee movements led to new communities in the United States that were dominated by peoples from Cuba and Haiti. The Cuban refugees became a political force in the Miami area. The refugees also created problems in areas where they settled including the increased costs of public services needed to provide schools, healthcare including often severe mental health needs, housing, and other basic needs.

One of the longest lasting displacements of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century occurred in the Middle East when Palestinian Arabs were forced from their homelands following establishment of the Jewish state of Israel within the Palestinian territory in 1948. Over 700,000 Palestinians were displaced in the late 1940s. That number grew to four million through population growth throughout the following several decades. Palestinian rebel groups used the refugee camps as bases for attacks against Israel and Israeli occupational forces. Because of their seemingly permanent condition, displaced Palestinians were no longer considered refugees by the UN by permanent Palestinian inhabitants.

In 2000, the United Nations designated June 20 as World Refugee Day, a day to call attention to the plight of millions of people around the world who have suffered from displacement, prejudice, and persecution.


The ultimate consequence of prejudice is genocide. Genocide refers to one group attempting to murder all members of another group because of their race, ethnic relations, national affiliation, or religious beliefs. Genocide has been an all too common occurrence throughout human history.

The Holocaust from 1933 to 1945, in which the German government killed eleven million people including six million European Jews, was the most noted case of genocide in history. The Germans also targeted Poles, Gypsies, Slavs, homosexual men, and various political opponents in order to rid German society of those they considered undesirable contributors to the idealized German race and society. Germany had actually turned genocide into an industry, complete with specially constructed death camps, railroad systems for transporting targeted people, large gas chambers, and crematoriums for disposal of bodies. It was mass murder on a large scale. Gas chambers were disguised as showers. It would take only a small number of camp staff to kill tens of thousands of people a month.

Occurrences of mass deaths resulting from hostile actions occurred throughout the twentieth century. At the beginning of the century, the American seizure of Philippine lands for American sugar planters during the Spanish-American War (1899) led to the deaths of an estimated one million civilians Filipinos between 1899 and 1913. American forces overthrew a newly established Philippine government that sought political independence from the United States.

Hate Crimes

The fight against prejudice led to the creation of a new type of crime category by the U.S. Congress in 1992: hate crime. Hate crimes are acts committed against a person only because that person is considered to be a member of some social group that is devalued by society in general. The victimized group could be identified by race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. An action against a person with disabilities was added to the list in 1994. The purpose for the establishment of hate crimes as a category was to provide for harsher penalties for certain crimes if it can be determined the person was motivated by a prejudice toward one of the classes of people listed above.

Hate crimes can involve violent crime, destruction of property, and hate speech. The choice of specific targeted individual may not even be relevant to the crime. These crimes are intended to intimidate and harass members of targeted groups and maintain dominance of one group over another. Often the targeted group is seen as a threat to the living standards of the dominant group, either through job competition or differences in lifestyle.

In 2004 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recorded 7,649 hate crimes in the United States with over nine thousand victims. Some 53 percent involved racial prejudice followed by 18 percent involving religious prejudice. Two-thirds of the aggressors were white. Besides black victims other groups being targeted were Jews and homosexuals. No matter who the victim might be, the psychological effects of hate crimes on victims can be damaging and long lasting. This problem has been very serious for gays and homosexuals.

The genocide of Armenians by Turkish leaders in the Ottoman Empire in eastern Europe between 1915 and 1923 led to the displacement of two million Armenians from a land they had lived on for over two thousand years. The Turks accused the Armenians as being supporters of Russia during World War I (1914–18) and launched the genocide after Ottoman forces suffered a major defeat by Russian forces in early 1915. Armenians had maintained an ethnic tie to Russians prior to the war and were suspected of wanting independence from the Ottomans. Approximately 1.5 million Armenians were killed.

In the early 1930s, Joseph Stalin (1878–1953) gained full power of the Communist government in the Soviet Union. Between seven million and fifteen million people died in the Ukraine from famine as the Soviet Union seized desperately needed food for its own population. Though the Soviet leader claimed this was a natural disaster, his actions clearly worsened the plight of Ukrainians. Stalin also purged most of Ukraine's political leaders. Stalin's actions further strengthened the Soviets' hold on Ukraine that had begun earlier in the 1920s with the development of heavy industry to support the Soviet Union. The political control of Ukraine lasted until 1990.

Other occurrences of genocide soon followed the Nazi Holocaust. In the late 1970s the Cambodian Khmer Rouge, an extremist political organization that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, killed about 1.7 million Cambodians. The Khmer Rouge selected people for death who they considered to be ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese, Thais, intellectuals, and religious leaders (including Buddhist monks), and others suspected of political opposition to the new Communist Party rule.

Other notable occurrences of mass murder occurred in the 1990s. In the Balkans (region in southeast Europe), approximately eight thousand Bosnian Muslim men were executed in July 1995 by Serbian special forces who wished to remove the Bosnian Muslims living in an area in the middle of Serbian communities. An additional one million Croats and Bosnian Muslims were displaced. In Africa during a one hundred-day period in 1994, in an ethnic political struggle for control of Rwanda, the Hutus of Rwanda killed almost one million Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus. The Rwandian genocide was aimed at the elimination of a group of people known as Tutsi, who made up about 14 percent of the country's population. Hutu comprised 85 percent of Rwanda's population. Factions within the Rwandan government organized the genocide. The United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to prosecute those responsible for the mass killings. By late 2006 trials had been completed or were still ongoing for some fifty-six defendants.

Also in Africa by the early twenty-first century, another two million people had been killed and four million displaced in the Darfur region of Sudan. This genocide had been in progress since 1983 with no international intervention. Janjaweed militias, or armed forces, with support of the Sudanese government, systematically killed black Africans, eliminating entire populations from western Sudan.

The ethics of genetic engineering

As the twenty-first century arrived, scientific advances were accumulating disconcerting knowledge about human genetics and its modification, known as genetic engineering. Genetic engineering is a modern term used by biologists to describe the ways that living organisms can be altered or modified, mostly for the purpose of improving the lives of human beings. Sometimes biologists use the term biotechnology rather genetic engineering. Genetics has to do with the study of genes (the distinct traits or characteristics that are observable in a living organism) and how these are inherited from generation to generation. The discoveries in this area of science led to a wider public discussion about their appropriate application to life. Naturally, prejudices and fear of prejudice came into the debate since the genetic makeup of populations or just individuals could be influenced by personal or political decisions.

The historical development of modern genetic engineering began in the nineteenth century with Gregor Mendel (1822–1884). Mendel is credited with discovering the principle of heredity, or the way the physical characteristics of living things are passed from one generation to the next. In 1953 James Watson (1928–) and Francis Crick (1916–2004) discovered the structure of the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecule, the fundamental building block of all life. This important discovery was advanced in the 1970s when other scientists learned how to recombine and rearrange the genetic order of the DNA molecule.

The first efforts at human gene therapy began in 1990. Gene therapy involves treating people suffering from a disease by placing the appropriate good genes into their system so that they might fight the disease. This research focused only on cases where some genes might be missing in the person or the genes are not performing properly. The genes are added by inserting a piece of DNA into the cells of the ill person. The success of gene therapy has been limited due to a number of factors. For example, often subjects of the therapy are suffering from multiple problems that may be interacting in some unknown manner and the person's immune system may fight the introduced new genes. Little progress has been achieved since 1990 with gene therapy.

The ability to recombine and rearrange DNA is the point that genetic engineering begins to consider the moral and ethical challenges that are a part of this science. Some people wonder if scientists have the right to recombine genes just because they know how. But geneticists point to the real prospect of improved quality of life if they could recombine or eliminate harmful genes. If scientists know which genes are the causes of a particular disease, it would be difficult to justify legally prohibiting the use of this ability to remove or recombine the genes causing this disease. Or if scientists can dramatically increase the food supply by the proper use of genetic engineering, it might be possible to eliminate world hunger. Or if two people who want to have children carry a high probability of their offspring bearing a debilitating disease, this couple could receive appropriate genetic counseling on how to avoid passing the faulty genes on to their children. Some think genetic engineering opens the door for improving the natural environment and creating better reproductive technologies.

Other geneticists, however, warn of the many potential problems society faces if scientists are not careful with genetic engineering. For instance, potential parents may want to create a child of their own design, sometimes referred to as designer babies. Genetic engineering would give them the capacity to determine the height, intelligence, gender, and other traits in their children they consider desirable. Genetic treatments can make people potentially faster, stronger, smarter, or possessing some other desirable feature. This suggests a kind of prejudice since some traits would be considered good and others bad. Or if information about one's genetic makeup did not remain private, insurance companies might use such information to insure only those who are at very low risk of acquiring certain kinds of diseases. This can be seen as a kind of economic prejudice since only those fortunate enough to be born with the "right" genetic makeup or the money to change their genetic makeup would be acceptable to insurance companies. These kinds of issues seem to be ongoing problems for scientists, philosophers, and religious scholars. In the early twenty-first century, there is still no set of satisfactory ethical solutions for the science of genetic engineering.

Questions continued about who would decide how the human race could be improved through biotechnology. The consequences of prejudices could be far-reaching in these monumental decisions. If newly engineered people came into existence new problems in prejudice might arise for society. Society in general might be prejudiced toward the altered persons by treating the people as if they represented a higher standard, or there might be prejudice against the people and persecution would result because they might not be considered natural humans. Fears of how prejudice would influence what groups of people might have access to genetic engineering grew. Perhaps social class differences would grow even greater.

Prejudice can take many forms—ethnic and religious bias, racism, nationalism, sexism, classism, and prejudice against people based on sexual orientation. It also occurs in all societies around the world, including Western developed countries to Third World countries. Because of the wide range and many types of prejudice, the consequences of prejudice are highly varied and pervasive around the world. Current events in the early twenty-first century have shown that the deadly effects of prejudice in the new century are no less dramatic than in centuries past. It is evident human populations will have to continue coping with the consequences of prejudice for years to come including the costs of pain and suffering.

For More Information


Allport, Gordon W. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1979.

Horowitz, Donald L. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Hurst, Charles E. Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. New York: Pearson, 2004.

Moon, Bucklin. The High Cost of Prejudice. Westport, CT: Negro Universities Press, 1970.

Oliver, Willard M. Community-Oriented Policing: A Systematic Approach to Policing. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.

Plous, Scott, ed. Understanding Prejudice and Discrimination. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

Russell, Katheryn. The Color of Crime. New York: New York University Press, 1998.


Understanding Prejudice. (accessed on November 22, 2006).

"World Refugee Day." United Nations. (accessed on November 22, 2006).

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Consequences of Prejudice

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