How can we beat discrimination?

The theme of this year’s TEDxTruro is ‘Beyond Barriers’ and one of the issues we will cover is discrimination.

Discrimination comes in all shapes and sizes, from the obvious ones of gender, age, race to the more discreet: what school you went to, your job title, your profession, the size of your waist or the colour of your hair.

Discrimination has no barriers.

We all discriminate. Food, clothes, type, brand of car, tall and dark, slight and bookish. We have preferences. Some are hardwired into our brains by DNA; we pick up others through experiences. But do we allow them to morph into something more.

I’m fortunate, to my knowledge, I’ve suffered very little unjustified discrimination. But when I did it left me feeling angry, frustrated and rejected. Many people face these feelings daily and I wonder how they cope and respond. How do they differentiate between what’s them, their professional or personal shortcomings and what’s being projected onto them by another? At what point does a person stop putting up with it and bite back at a perceived injustice or just loose ambition; and if they do, do they just reinforce a stereotype.

How well would you tolerate it? Where would your breaking point be? Where was it?

I thought, like many do, that my best strategy would be to engage and see if I could overcome prejudice through persuasion and discussion. But what if this doesn’t work? Or they agree it’s discriminatory but do nothing? Injustice of any kind is difficult to swallow, especially when it’s recognised and brushed of as either acceptable or ‘just the way things are’.

Similarly, I wonder about those who go along with the consensus, complicit by association. They may not share the same prejudice but feel unable or not sufficiently motivated to speak up.

We have seen tremendous shifts in opinion in recent decades. What was seen as normal workplace banter around disability, gender, sexuality and race has been firmly pushed to the margins. This has been achieved through recognising what prejudice and inequality are; their costs, impacts and how we go about removing them. What was political correctness is now seen as morally correct. But there are still significant improvements to be made.

People, businesses and institutions benefit from the richness that comes with different perspectives. It’s incumbent on all of us to accept, encourage and embrace difference. We must recognise our own prejudices and find ways to challenge discrimination wherever we encounter it and dissolve the barriers.