“The moment a little boy is concerned with which is the jay and which is the sparrow, he can no longer see the birds nor hear them sing.” ~Eric Berne
We all know it happens. Most of us have experienced it or had someone close to us experience it. Even in 2016 discrimination is a part of our lives. Experiencing discrimination can be illegal, detrimental, emotional, and extremely difficult to deal with, especially by yourself. Discrimination in society can lead to whole sections of the population being disadvantaged and marginalized. Here is a guide on what to do if you encounter discrimination and some resources to help.
What is Discrimination?
Discrimination is defined as the act or practice of unfairly treating a person or group of people differently than others. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines different types of discrimination: age, disability, equal pay, genetic information, harassment, national origin, pregnancy, race/color, religion, retaliation, sex, and sexual harassment.
Obviously discrimination can be a varied and complicated occurrence. It can happen at work (unequal pay or being laid off because you become pregnant), at a business (refusing to serve people of a certain race or work for a same-sex couple’s wedding), or even at school or by groups of your peers (hateful jokes, being ignored).
If you feel you are being discriminated against
It can feel terrible to experience discrimination, making your life difficult and leading to anger and depression. When you are treated as just another one of a group or “type,” you aren’t given the chance to express yourself as an individual.
- Realize it is not your fault.
- Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or counselor outside of the situation. It will help to talk about what happened and get another opinion as well as feel supported.
- Be honest and assertive (not aggressive) and tell the person that what they said or did is offensive to you and you would like them not to repeat the behavior. It is not your job to change someone’s prejudice, but you have the right to ask to be treated with respect.
- Join a support group or other organization that promotes awareness of your culture or group. Feeling empowered will help you and others in similar situations.
- If the discrimination is at work, check out the tips below for discrimination in the workplace.
If you see someone else being discriminated against
At the end of the day, each individual has to decide whether or not they feel discriminated against and if they want to do anything about it. But you can offer support.
- Talk to the person. Explain what you witnessed and ask them about their experiences.
- Document occurrences and come forward with your information if any investigation is conducted (see below for tips on documentation).
Discrimination in the Workplace
Most employers have a responsibility to make sure their employees are not discriminated against and will not be victimized as a result of a complaint. Whether or not your workplace has policies like these, you have options which you should explore.
- If you feel you are being discriminated against by your company, boss, or coworker, talk to a trusted friend, family member, counselor, or lawyer for an outside opinion. Making accusations that cannot be substantiated can create even more hostility for you without positive change.
- Educate yourself on your workplace anti-discrimination policies.
- Keep documentation on the discrimination (see below for tips on documentation).
- Though human resource departments are there to help and protect employees, they are also there to protect the organization as a whole. It may be a good idea to seek advice from a lawyer before going to human resources.
- Talk to a lawyer who can help you sort out the facts and decide what steps to take.
Any type of documentation will help your case against discrimination. Save emails, chats, text messages, voicemails, performance reviews, photographs or any other evidence of discrimination. Take notes on the day, time, people involved, and occurrences. Remember to keep everything safe and to never put yourself in harms way while recording evidence.
Do your part
We all make mistakes and can do or say something offensive or look the other way when discrimination happens. But it is important to do your best, keep trying, and apologize when necessary.
- Monitor your own behavior and language. Put yourself in others’ shoes.
- Don’t laugh at or encourage offensive jokes.
- Be politically and culturally aware of your local area and the world around you.
- Boycott companies that are sexist, racist, or homophobic.
- Learn about and from people who are different than you. Step outside your comfort zone and have conversations about others’ lives.
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission The EEOC has field offices around the nation in addition to the website and gives help on filing charges on discrimination and much more.
Workplace fairness.org gives advice on steps you can take if you feel you are being discriminated against at work.
FindLaw has a directory of discrimination lawyers.
Responding to discrimination in school. Though specifically created for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, these tips could apply to any type of discrimination parents and students may have to deal with at school.
DiversityInc has lists of what not to say to avoid being offensive.