Discrimination has gotten a bad rap over the last generation. It has a negative connotation when it’s not only natural but vital to our health.
Sure, there are all forms of biases. Not only the more notable such as skin color and religion, but also social status, gender, intelligence, body type, culture, age, and a myriad of others.
Discrimination is hard-wired into the animal kingdom, not from conscious thought, but from a kind of natural selection. Animals, including humans, tend to identify with the familiar. We are attracted to those with overlapping qualities or complimentary characteristics. Those who don’t fit in are filtered out, perhaps even unfairly.
Animals living in clans or tribes (a human trait) are innately suspicious of those they don’t know. Our ancestors, the chimps, have been known to treat those outside their band rather harshly.
Fortunately, most of us have evolved to the point where we’ve learned not to harm those with whom we are not attracted. Nevertheless, we use our inherent prejudices to avoid those with whom we choose not to interact, or consider detrimental.
In the USA, being a racist is slander. It’s commonly used by media to peg those they find disagreeable. It’s partisanship, or discrimination, at its finest.
It’s not to say that we are not attracted to differences. In our ever-connected world, millions roam the globe seeking out dissimilarities, attracted to novelty. Many of us have rich experiences doing so. But we have our moments — times where we have an inability to fully connect, creating subliminal biases.
In the Arab world, whether it’s race, gender, or religion, open discrimination is alive and thriving. In Dubai’s metro system, there are separate cars for women only. They can ride in those cars or mixed cars with men, but men are not permitted in those allocated for women. Local restaurants typically dedicate mixed sections for families and sections for men only. In many supermarkets, non-Muslims have their own meat shopping area. Forget entering Dubai with an Israeli passport, and expect problems if your passport has a stamp from that country.
Open and honest discrimination can be healthy. It can also be harmful if we deceive ourselves. If a supermarket has made a section for non-Muslims, it’s a form of discrimination that we’ve deemed acceptable. If we go about hurting or harming others due to an intolerance, it could be said to be a kind of discrimination gone awry — a form of devolution.
We constantly make conscious and unconscious judgments, some barely noticeable and ever so slight, about everyone we see. The question isn’t about whether we discriminate or not, it’s to what degree. And, about how honest we are admitting so.
And yes sure, there are loads of spiritually enlightened individuals who operate in a sphere above natural selection. It’s just not most of us. Maybe some day. As a species, we are working to get there.
So if we think we don’t discriminate, in all likelihood it wouldn’t be true. But if no overt harm is done, no harm no foul. But we’d be wise to be wary of the invert repercussions of fooling ourselves.