The Mechanism of Discrimination

Masayuki Tanaka

In today’s multiethnic society, there are number of situations that people discriminate against someone. For example, we have learnt the facts of discrimination against Japanese-Peruvian, Okinawan, Ainu, Chinese and Zainichi Korean. But we have not studied why people discriminate. Although this is an extremely huge and fundamental question, I believe it is important to know the mechanism of discrimination and how to solve it for making Japan a discrimination-free society.

Discrimination can be classified in two ways. In one case, people do or say some discriminatory things on purpose. This is called ‘conscious discrimination’ because there is a certain intention to discriminate. For example, if parents tell their child, “Don’t go to that area! Many Burakumins are living,” this is conscious discrimination since the parents recognize that they are discriminating against someone (even if they are not feeling guilty).

In the other case, however, people often discriminate without recognition. This is called ‘unconscious discrimination.’ For instance, many Japanese people used to call an instant camera ‘bakachon-camera’ (which means even stupid Koreans can take pictures) without understanding its meaning. Although many of them were not trying to discriminate against Korean people, they eventually did. So this type of discrimination is called ‘unconscious discrimination.’

What makes people discriminate? To know its mechanism, I am going to give an example of ‘unconscious discrimination’ by showing a short scene of a film called Gentleman’s Agreement. This is a fiction movie which focuses on ethnic discrimination in the US society. A Catholic American journalist spends a couple of months in New York with his family, his mother and little son between his ex-wife, as Jewish to write about his first-hand experiences of anti-Semitism.

In this film, I would like you to pay attention to the scene when a woman said some words to a crying boy from 00:45. After you watch, I am going to explain how she unconsciously discriminated against Jewish people.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH81iB8kyM8&feature=related

When Tommy, the journalist’s son who was also pretending to be a Jewish, said, “They (his friends) called me a dirty Jew. And a stinking Kike!,” Kathy, the journalist girlfriend, embraced him and replied, “It’s not true. It’s not true. You’re no more Jewish than I am. It’s just a horrible mistake.” Kathy was just trying to comfort Tommy, but she unconsciously gave Tommy a negative image about Jewish people. What this scene telling us is that people unconsciously discriminate against somebody without vicious intention. This type of discrimination is more serious than the conscious discrimination because the people do not recognize their words or behavior as discrimination.

How can we avoid it? ‘Conscious discrimination’ (discrimination on purpose) is easy to prevent if you have a sense of human right, but in the case of ‘unconscious discrimination,’ it is very hard to avoid because even a moral person often discriminate carelessly. It means even if you are not trying to discriminate against anybody, you might hurt someone. The solution is knowing discriminatory words and behavior. If you recognize certain words or behavior as discrimination, you will not use it. I think this is the only way to solve the mechanism of discrimination.

Consequently, there are two ways of discrimination: conscious discrimination and unconscious discrimination. In order to prevent them, we have to learn the mechanism of discrimination.

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