Embracing differences: What you can do about prejudice

Everyone has different beliefs, skills, looks and backgrounds. Sometimes, these differences can be the reason certain people are targets for prejudice.

Everyone benefits from being around people with differences. Prejudice and discrimination is when people make assumptions based on these differences. This negatively impacts the people who experience prejudice.

People can be different in many ways including:

  • •    moral beliefs
  • •    spiritual beliefs
  • •    cultural background
  • •    physical appearance
  • •    sexual orientation
  • •    gender identity
  • •    intellectual strengths
  • •    moral beliefs
  • •    social preferences
  • •    tastes, interests and hobbies

What is a stereotype?

A stereotype is when someone assumes people of shared characteristics have certain attributes. Stereotypes can be dangerous and unfair to the individual(s) being judged. For example, believing that women are more emotional than men. 

Prejudice is a belief

Prejudice is when someone makes a negative assumption about a person based on a stereotype. The assumption is usually based on a person’s membership to a certain group. Prejudice also divides people based on stereotypes. Examples may include:

  • •    Racism: negative attitudes toward certain races, ethnicities and cultures.
  • •    Heterosexism: negative attitudes toward certain sexual orientations and gender identities.
  • •    Sexism: believing sex and gender determine status.
  • •    Ableism: believing physical and mental ability determine status.
  • •    Religious intolerance: negative attitudes toward certain religious beliefs.
  • •    Classism: believing economic class determines status.
  • •    Lookism: believing appearance and looks determine status.
  • •    Ableism: believing physical and mental ability determine status.
  • •    Ageism: believing age determines status.

Discrimination is an action

Discrimination is when someone acts on their prejudiced beliefs. Examples may include:

  • •    a person losing a job promotion to someone else (due to gender identity or sexual orientation)
  • •    a person being watched by the authorities more than someone else (due to skin colour)
  • •    a person being served after someone else in a store (due to class)

When a person hears or thinks negative things over and over, they may begin to believe they’re true (even if they’re not). People who experience discrimination often have lowered self-esteem. They may feel:

  • •    challenging emotions
  • •    lacking control of their own life
  • •    losing hope in the future
  • •    unable to trust others

Discriminatory bullying

Discriminatory bullying is when someone is targeted because they are perceived as “different” by someone else. This type of bullying is especially harmful because a person is being attacked for who they are. Discriminatory bullying can be based on:

  • •    ethnicity
  • •    skin colour
  • •    religion
  • •    sexual orientation
  • •    gender identity
  • •    appearance
  • •    abilities
  • •    nationality

It’s important to recognize that judging someone based on a part of their identity is not only bullying — it’s prejudice and discrimination.

If you’re experiencing discrimination, hate or violence, help is available. You can talk to a safe adult or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

What can I do about prejudice? 

There are many ways you can help reduce prejudice.

Here are some ways you can help take a stand against prejudice:

  • •    don’t laugh at racist, sexist or heterosexist jokes
  • •    refuse to watch movies, read books, play video games or participate in activities promoting prejudice
  • •    challenge friends/peers who express prejudiced beliefs
  • •    work with a diverse group of people at school/in your community
  • •    support organizations that help address the roots/effects of prejudice

If you have questions about prejudice, you can talk to a safe adult such as a parent/caregiver, relative, teacher or religious leader.

If you would like to know more about this topic, feel free to speak or chat with a counsellor.