Discrimination covers any scenario where an individual or company treats a person or group of people unfairly due to a particular characteristic. The most commonly referred to types of discrimination include prejudicial behavior that is based on skin color, gender, disability, religion or sexual orientation. However, discrimination can be based on any attribute that is viewed as marking the victim out as being different. For example, discrimination might be on the basis of age, weight, height, nationality or any number of other attributes. In order to tackle this hurtful and damaging behavior, it's important to identify the causes of discrimination.
Ignorance, fear and stereotyping
Discrimination is often based on ignorance, fear and stereotypical viewpoints. For example, religious and/or sectarian discrimination is often fuelled by people living and working in separate communities and therefore not having ample opportunity to interact with people from the other group. Discrimination in Northern Ireland has not been helped by the fact that most children either go to protestant or catholic schools and many grow up in neighborhoods that are largely divided along the same lines. The erecting of walls (either real or psychological) between communities is a perfect breeding ground for discrimination. It is the responsibility of society to reject a "them and us" mentality wherever it is encountered and to ensure that young people get the opportunity to mix with people who have different backgrounds or characteristics.
Irresponsible behavior by politicians, the media and other influential groups
Most people get their views on a wide range of social and political topics from consuming media (TV, radio, Internet, newspapers, etc.) and listening to the views of politicians, religious leaders and other people who have some form of influence over a large number of people. There can be instances where it serves the purpose of such groups to place blame upon certain sections of society. A great example is where media moguls and politicians jump on the bandwagon of blaming poor economic performance upon immigrants. Even educated adults sometimes have difficulty filtering out political bias and facts are often not allowed to get in the way of a good story.
Humans are a tribal species. We have a tendency to embrace sameness rather than difference. This is even observed from quite a young age with school children, where people who are fat, small or wear glasses are often singled out for abuse because they are different. In adults, even with those of a well-meaning liberal persuasion, there can be a tendency to make judgments based on factors such as the presence of tattoos, hair style or what people wear. Such superficial judgments are silly but we have to work hard to teach our children, and remind ourselves, to judge based upon a person's personality and actual qualities rather than by whether they conform to what might be labeled "the norm."
Archaic religious or cultural beliefs
Anything that divides humans has great potential to foster hatred and misunderstanding. Organized religion plays a particularly powerful role in determining attitudes towards outsider groups. The presence of highly charged religious belief can lead to direct religious discrimination (Christian versus Muslim, Catholic versus Protestant, etc.) but it can also influence attitudes towards other sections of society. Good examples are the attitudes that some religious groups have towards women or homosexuality. Of course, religions can be a force for great good but they have a responsibility to ensure that tolerance and goodwill towards all men (and women) are preached rather than vilification of fellow human beings.