What Is the Difference Between Discrimination and Prejudice?

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Prejudice refers to thoughts and attitudes a person holds toward a group of people, while discrimination refers to actual actions against such a group, as defined by the online Introduction to Sociology textbook from OpenStax College. Anti-discrimination laws exist to prevent discriminatory actions against any group of people.

The origin of prejudice lies outside a person’s real experience, the OpenStax textbook states. Laws can help prevent discrimination, but sociological theory notes that laws cannot abolish discrimination or the prejudice on which it is often based, due to the social factors and mechanics at play. Prejudiced beliefs, such as belief in white supremacy, manifest themselves in hateful, discriminatory actions such as hate crimes.

When someone acts on his prejudice, he is known as a prejudiced discriminator, Introduction to Sociology states. A person can, theoretically, be a prejudiced racist without acting in a discriminatory manner. A business owner may hold racist beliefs but still hire minority workers or cater to minority customers. Such a person is known in sociology as a prejudiced nondiscriminator. Another person may be unprejudiced, but still act in a discriminatory manner, making him an unprejudiced discriminator. Open-minded and tolerant people may still act unthinkingly in racist or sexist ways that reflect the attitudes and social norms of the society as a whole. Finally, unprejudiced nondiscriminators are open-minded and tolerant and do not practice discrimination.