and Promote Racial and Gender Equality
Prejudice based on race, gender, or other characteristics is as old as humanity. Most of human history was characterized by severe scarcity of resources so a primary motivation for discrimination was the concern that another group would deprive your own group of its material resources. Scarcity is still an issue in today’s world, but prejudice is also motivated by ancient ideas of the “proper” role of different groups as implied by the word itself: “pre” “judge.”
That all humans are entitled to respect and opportunity is a fairly recent ideal, having only emerged in the last couple of centuries, along with the idea of democracy. But true equality is even more recent. For example, in the United States, one of the first true democracies, many African Americans were held as slaves until the mid-nineteenth century, and women only got right to vote about a century ago (in 1920).
Danielle recognizes the goal of equal rights from an early age, when she tells a CNN reporter at age five that undocumented immigrants face an “American apartheid.” Later, Danielle breaks down gender stereotypes, from achieving great success as a girl in science to accepting a Grammy for Best Male Singer. But even if you’re not a Grammy nominee, you too can fight prejudice and promote equality.
The most basic step in solving a problem is taking the time to understand the issue. To promote racial and gender equality, knowledge is one of your most powerful tools. Take a look at these resources to learn more about prejudice and how to fight it:
- Racism: Science tells us that there’s really no such thing as different races. Some human populations tend to have different physical features—like skin color, hair color, height, and eye shape. For centuries, people with certain groups of features have been artificially classed into races, mainly based on skin color. When people treat other people negatively because they perceive them as being of a different race, that’s racism. Here’s more information:
- Introductory article for students1 summarizing what scientific research has discovered about racism, its effects, and how to address it.
- Helpful explanation of hidden bias,2 which is unintentional prejudice that can influence our behavior without us even knowing it. For example, many white Americans don’t feel any hatred for African-Americans, but still tend to associate them with crime and poverty because of old cultural stereotypes and the stories they see in the media. Hidden bias can also be unconsciously adopted by the groups being discriminated against.
- The Implicit Association Test.3 This is a simple test you can take on your computer that measures how much hidden bias about race you might have. Notably, even African-Americans often have hidden bias against other African-Americans, because stereotypes are so strong. Note that finding hidden biases does not make you a bad person. It is courageous to make a conscious effort to figure out the areas you might have biases and work to overcome them.
- Sexism: Unlike race, gender isn’t just a set of made-up categories. Biology determines that the great majority of humans will be either male or female, but there are lots of misleading stereotypes about what this means. In most societies, these stereotypes led to discrimination that makes it harder for women to fulfill their potential. For example, many people think that because most men are usually stronger than most women, physically demanding jobs like firefighters and soldiers are not for women. No matter how strong an individual woman is, she will have to overcome the biases in the minds of other people. Women also face higher rates of sexual harassment at their jobs. These biases and behavior are sexism. Here’s some further information:
- A quick summary from the University of California, Berkeley4 that gives more basic facts about what sexism is, how it causes harm, and things students can do about it.
- If you’re a male, it can be especially hard to understand what sexism is like because you haven’t experienced it firsthand. This essay explains sexism from the perspective of women studying to be doctors.5
- A powerful video that shows girls and women repeating sexist things people have said to them.6
- Transphobia: Sometimes, people experience a mismatch between the biological sex indicated by their DNA and what they feel like inside, known as gender. They may have been born a boy but experience life as a “woman trapped in a man’s body.” In other cases, people are born with genitals that are not clearly male or female, or feel that their gender is neither male nor female. When these people live these identities openly, they often face discrimination and prejudice known as transphobia. These are a few starting points for learning more about transsexuality and transphobia:
- An introduction to the idea that gender exists on a spectrum,7 and what life is like for people who do not identify as the biological sex they were born as.
- A clear and concise summary from the University of Cambridge about transphobia8 and the harm it causes to trans (also known as transsexual or transgender) people.
- A fascinating TED Talk9 by my friend Martine Rothblatt, an entrepreneur, business executive, futurist, and author who was born male but is now a transgender woman. Martine’s talk shows you that many transgender people live exciting and fulfilling lives, and do not let prejudice define them or hold them back. Her book, The Apartheid of Sex clearly articulates this issue.
Prejudice based on disabilities is another important category of bias. I have worked closely with the National Federation of the Blind (the largest organization of blind people in the United States) for over forty years, having partnered with them on the Kurzweil Reading Machine, the first print-to-speech reading machine for the blind. Even in these four decades, there has been enormous progress in overcoming prejudice against the blind and other disabilities, but, again, ancient ideas that people with disabilities are unable to contribute to society continue to be a powerful and negative influence.
Maybe the most important way to educate yourself about prejudice is to get to know people with diverse backgrounds. If there are students at your school with backgrounds different from yours, try to listen to their experiences with open ears. You may learn that prejudice impacts their lives in ways you hadn’t even imagined.
Similarly, you may have experienced or witnessed prejudice in ways your friends can learn from. You could also encourage your school to invite adults to come speak to students about their own experiences facing and overcoming racism, sexism, transphobia, and other forms of prejudice.
But education is only the first step. What can you actually do to promote racial and gender equality?
For more information, please see the following entries in the companion book A Chronicle of Ideas: A Guide for Superheroines (and Superheroes): Apartheid, South African Apartheid, Nelson Mandela, Martine Rothblatt, The Apartheid of Sex.