I will begin with describing what prejudice and discrimination are and then show how accessing and receiving care is influenced by cultural assumptions. Using some case studies I will discuss the affects on sense of identity and self worth. I then plan to look at how to minimize prejudice and how to assist in equal access to services and fair and proper treatment within them. Prejudice is defined in the dictionary as ‘an unreasonable or unfair dislike or preference’ (Collins, 2000 p680).
Discrimination is defined as ‘unfair treatment of a person, racial group, or minority’ (Collins, 2000 p236). Prejudices are based on stereo-types – an image you have of someone based on the category you think they fit into for example someone may believe that an individual in a wheelchair must be somehow slow, stupid or at least unable to communicate fully. Discrimination is having and using power to enforce this belief for example asking a friend or support worker of the individual if they want a drink rather than asking them directly.
A more affecting example of this can be found with Lorna. She was encouraged by school teachers to take part in athletics rather than biology, despite her own preferences, highlighting the belief that African Caribbean people excel in sports (Unit 3 p81). This limits Lorna’s access to education and knowledge and causes bad feeling between her and the education system as a whole. The same rules can apply to accessing and receiving care. Robina Shah gives a good example of how stereotypes and prejudice can open the doors to discrimination albeit unintentionally.
Her first point describes a telephone conversation in which a social worker asks for advice concerning an Asian woman whom she feels requires urgent help regarding a forced marriage and the impending eviction from her family home with her three children. She also wants to know what language the woman is likely to speak in order to obtain a translator. It turns out the women actually requires some support regarding child care and council housing as the father is away and her mothers home is getting too crowded. She also speaks perfect English. (Shar (1992) quoted in the reader, P182).
This shows how easy it can be to allow prejudice to affect your work practice and lead to discrimination but also shows how easy it can be to avoid. A simple telephone call to the woman would have answered all these questions and avoided any subsequent errors. Robina Shars writing also attacks how past discrimination has lead to many not approaching the health provision as they feel that they are going to be judged before they begin. “They may not want to be accused of being a burden to the state and taking more than their share” (Shar (1992) quoted in the reader, P187).
Another example of this is the traveling culture case study (Audio 3, section 1). The school teacher expected the accommodation to be dirty, the midwife expected the family to have difficulties with bringing up a baby and the health visitor thought that they would have nothing and was surprised at how well they coped in ‘small accommodation’. It is not hard to see why they may be apprehensive about contacting social and health services. Although people avoid using and receiving labels we do have a need to belong.
So where some one may take offence to be called an ‘African person’, they may well appreciate it being recognized that they are a person of African origin and subsequently having their cultural and ethnical differences respected. Returning to the case study of Lorna, ignoring some ones race and attempting to treat everyone the same can have equally devastating consequences. The ‘staff and children were discouraged from talking about Lorna’s skin colour but Lorna often felt different… ‘ This must have left Lorna with a lot of questions and no-one to talk to about them.
She was placed with white foster carers in an attempt to be bought up as a white child, these failed. She was then placed with an African Caribbean foster carer. By this point Lorna did not feel that she belonged with any one. She could not answer the question of ‘who am I? ‘ and must have felt very alone. (Unit 3 pp 76-77) For me this highlights the use and true meaning of the term ‘equal opportunities’. Many people use this to mean treating every one the same, as this case study shows this does not work; people are different and need to have those differences respected.
Equal opportunities means exactly what it says, giving everyone the same opportunities. For example at the day centre where I work we provide menu choices for the service users. ‘Tony’ is vegetarian and so it would be inappropriate to offer him the meat option for the day. Instead we ensure that there still is a selection of foods for him to choose from, so that his right to choice is not suppressed. In order to minimize prejudice and assist in equal access to services we need to ensure that people are properly educated in equal opportunities.
Quite often people are not intentionally racist and by simply making them aware of how their actions may affect and be perceived by someone else is enough to deter them. There have been Acts introduced in order to tackle discrimination for example Disabilities Discrimination Act (1995), Sex Discrimination Act (1986) and Race Relations Act (1976) and sadly the majority of companies are now increasingly careful not to discriminate in order to avoid prosecution and compensation claims rather than to ensure a fair service. These acts and following company policies and procedures are also relevant to employers and their employees.
I think this is important as it ensures that fair mixes of people are service providers. It allows people from different backgrounds to mix with each other and hopefully become more understanding of their differences. This mix of service providers should also make available relevant contacts where they are necessary. In conclusion, education and awareness of discrimination and different cultures, backgrounds and up-bringing goes along way to reducing prejudice and discrimination and the law, or rather fear of the law, supports what we as a human race should be striving to succeed, a fair and inclusive society.