At the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York there is a plaque with a poem called "The New Colossus" written by poet Emma Lazarus. It carries the words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore..." America has typically been a country with open arms, and Lady Liberty was erected to welcome immigrants. Parts of our culture have been referred to as "the melting pot." So how do we discriminate?
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People discriminate through words, actions and conduct against groups they feel are different or inferior. This can manifest itself in a number of ways as people can harbour bad feelings against other races or ethnic groups, various age groups, citizens who are disadvantaged or have disabilities. There even those who have something to say about singles (unmarried individuals) and their sexual proclivities.
There is a checkered history with discrimination and the United States has experienced some volatile decades that resulted in major change in the way various groups are treated. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbade discrimination against people of colour; the Americans with Disabilities Act (1992) protected the rights of the handicapped and the Supreme Court weighed in on segregation in the schools with its ruling on Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in 1954.
Today there are discrimination laws against preferential treatment in housing, favoured employment practices, preferred health care, specialised lending and credit applications.
Discriminated persons have been called derogatory names; they've been treated unfairly in all aspects of life, and sometimes even brutalised physically. Property damage to homes, churches and schools is another form of vandalization sometimes done in the name of prejudice. And if so-called "different" or ethnic groups are prevented from earning the same wages, those lower earnings prevent people from living in a decent manner. And, often enough, our media stand in to perpetuate stereotyping, by labelling people of different groups using certain off-putting characteristics.
There are ways to fight discrimination, but the cause calls for action and even prevention. Society can seek to dispel discrimination by teaching children respect for people who are not like them. We can practice "humanist" behaviour by applying the Golden Rule to our daily life: Treat others as you would want to be treated yourself. But awareness of discrimination in our community is just the beginning, because we not only have to practice integration of all types of people, but we have to ride roughshod on our government and encourage the lawmakers to be vigilant as well.
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