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Stigma Is An Unusual Or Discredited

Stigma is an unusual or discredited association to any person, circumstance, event or anything. Erving Goffman gave the concept of ‘stigma’ in 1960’s and defines it as “an attribute that is deeply discrediting” later as “The Greeks … originated the term stigma to refer to bodily signs designed to expose something unusual and bad about the moral status of the signifier” (Goffman, 1968). To create stigmas not only create unusual associations but these associations are destructive at time because people with stigma suffer as socially they are unacceptable and they start to alienate from the society as Kurzban and Leary describes “the process of stigmatization revolves around exclusion of particular individuals [or groups of people] from certain types of social interactions” (Kurzban and Leary, 2001) With time the process of stigmatization has increased as it has taken many forms like culture, obesity, identity, mental illness, race, power, etc. For a better and comprehensive understanding the works of Link and Phelan have been taken into account, they explain the process of stigmatization as “Stigma exists when the following interrelated components converge. In the first component, people distinguish and label human differences. In the second, dominant cultural beliefs link labeled persons to undesirable characteristics – to negative stereotypes. In the third, labeled persons are placed in distinct categories so as to accomplish some degree of separation of ‘us’ from ‘them.’ In the fourth, labeled persons experience status loss and discrimination that lead to unequal outcomes. Stigmatization is entirely contingent on access to social, economic and political power that allows the identification of differentness, the construction of stereotypes, the separation of labeled persons into distinct categories and the full execution of disapproval, rejection, exclusion and discrimination. (Link and Phelan,2001)

The sociology of stigma can take any form which has a long term implications, among such stigma is race. As . R. A. Lenhardt defines racial stigma “It involves becoming a disfavored or dishonored individual in the eyes of society, a kind of social outcast whose stigmatized attribute stands as a barrier to full acceptance into the wider community.”(Lenhardt, 2004) Also Glenn Loury defines racial stigmatization "entails doubting the person’s worthiness and consigning him or her to a social netherworld. Indeed, although the language is somewhat hyperbolic, it means being skeptical about whether the person can be assumed to share a common humanity with the observer.” (Loury, 2002) Racial stigma is internationally practiced even though it started decades back and has long a history (Fernando, 2002) but didn’t eliminate as yet from the society.

One of the greatest racial stigmas is distinguish between black and white people. Due to stigma black people often termed as ‘negro’ to differentiate them and they have long history of persecution, oppression. Back then in nineteenth century when imperialism was at its peak, the ones in power were in position to make stigmatized groups. This lead the superior class Americans to mistreat African people as they believed their white fair color symbolizes superiority where as black people skin is black and is inferior race. Due to hegemony of white people, Africans were enslaved by marking them with racial stigma. (Patterson, 1982) The African people suffered a lot due to racial stigma as Charles Dickens in his book wrote incidents narrated by white people proudly "Ran away, negro woman and two children. A few days before she went off, I burnt her with a hot iron, on the left side of her face. I tried to make the letter M." Another incident “"Was committed to jail, a negro man. Says his name is Josiah. His back very much scarred by the whip; and branded on the thigh and hips in three or four places, thus (J M). The rim of his right ear has been bit or cut off." (DICKENS,1842)

Even now in this liberalized world racial stigmatization may have decreased but not ended. As Glen Loury writes “America, for example, is often said to be a nation of immigrants and a land of opportunity. But one of the first things new immigrants to America discover about their adopted country is that African Americans are a stigmatized group.”(Loury,2005)To test this Caroline Howarth conducted an empirical research and interviewed black people if they went through any discrimination, as one the interviewee Monica, a black British woman described her experiences of prejudice at primary school in London. “Monica: And prejudiced I mean by – I tried to do good by them (her white school teachers) and one of them, who is the English teacher, she dropped her handkerchief one day and I saw it and I picked it up and I gave it to her. And in front of me, she literally rubbed her hands – her fingers on her skirt and I asked her why was she doing that, ‘was my hands dirty?’ And she said, no. She said “you touched me so I need to wipe my hands”. And I didn’t quite understand. I was very upset and from that day I felt I couldn’t do anything right by her.” (Howarth, 2006) This reflects a light that how much difference has been created and due to this the stigmatized group suffers badly.

Due to discrimination and hegemony of white people, the black people are still marginalized due to stigmatization which has very devastating effects for black and other ethnic minorities in Britain discouraging them leads to demotivation and low self esteem and stigmatized students at times stop going to school due to extensive bullying by white people and thus black people end up having low qualification. (Crozier, 2005) This often leads to the representation of black youth as criminal, for example, in the case of Ferguson case, in which white policeman shot a black 18 years old for the charges of robbery without any proper evidence. This brutality Is often justified by white people that since their history links back to slavery, poverty they are more inclined towards robbery, criminal activity.(Miles, 1989). Though its not true that black people always get unfair charges, most of the times, the criminal activities are performed by black people but the justify it and as Crow Becker explains the situation “In turn this (racial stigma) leads to higher levels of unemployment, increased vulnerability to health problems, higher numbers involved with the police and criminal justice system and so reproduces racial exclusion and class stratification” (Becker, 2006).

As Goffman states “race is stigma” it reflects that whenever people create groups in order to stereotype, which is a negative stereotype (Jones et al. 1984), this will result in stigmatization. The racial stigma has been really harmful as it has destroyed cultures, identity by the people in power. The empowered group has the leverage to create stigmatized groups and label them because they are in power and due to this the stigmatized group is deprived of many basic rights as it can explained “This differentiation produces unequal outcomes, including differences in influence and esteem, social and occupational opportunities, access to civil rights, and health” (Berger & Webster, 2006) Due to racial stigmatization many people end up in social anxiety, eating disorder, increased stress levels. (Allison 1998) and suffer from low self-worth and depression (Abramson, Metalsky, and Alloy 1989). But with passage of time stigmatized group has found ways to cater the problem As Crocker and Quinn provide an insight of how this happens “people engage in a wide variety of strategies to maintain, protect and enhance their self-esteem”( Crocker & Quinn,1998)

Moreover, stigmas were never naturally present in our society; they have been constructed and cultivated in the mindsets of the public by the people in power, they could create any stigma on the basis of any characteristics, attribute or any factor which is why it is also linked with the theory of social construction of reality. As. Crocker explains that “stigmatized individuals possess (or are believed to possess) some attribute, or characteristic that conveys a social identity that is devalued in a particular social context” (Crocker,1998). New research has started to focus more on why this is happening and it has opened the area to examine the cognitive side of the people. The researchers have deduced that due to representation of the information in such a way by many groups like media organizations, government and all the concerned authorities in the power they have distorted the cognitive process and influenced the people for example the racial stigma has been built by white people in the mindsets of the people. Even a young white boy discriminates not because he was born with this instinct but because his parents, grandparents have passed this stigma to their kids. However social stigmas are negative and have gruesome impacts so they should be encountered and rectified by the same people in power who created them.

Since stigmas are socially constructed they have psychology and sociology impact which stay for a longer time period on human causing threatening outcomes as the recent study from the Department of Health and Human Services disclosed (Major & O’Brien, 2005; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [DHHS]) These outcomes are that stigmas can alter one’s identity. There are two types of stigmatized identity, concealable stigmatized identity and revealed stigmatized identity.” A concealable stigmatized identity1 is an identity that can be kept hidden from others but that carries with it social devaluation” (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998) People that practice concealable stigmatized identity are more inclined towards psychological distress including depression, anxiety and ill health. If the concealable stigmatized identities are revealed then society stereotypes wouldn’t let them live freely and this will cause real life implications that’s why people tend to hide it and prefer it than revealing their identities.

When social stigma is discussed then it includes different categories that alter identities that not only includes gender, racial, ethnic, regional but it also includes “ including history of mental illness, rape, molestation, epilepsy, domestic violence, previous incarceration, HIV/AIDS, and substance abuse” (see Pachankis, 2007). These all are categories of implications of stigmas which have been created by society which are built individuals or in culture.

Cultural Stigmas are sometimes built in culture or associated to culture. However the level of cultural stigma are created by the people in living that culture and it’s relatively on a broader scale as these cultural stigmas can’t be created by any one person. On cultural level different types of stigmas are associated to identities to devalue or discredit that culture. The more stigmas are associated with greater cultural stigma it will have more implication like more psychological distress. The example of cultural stigma is an association to the stigmas associated to the culture of African people, the entire culture wasn’t welcomed by the American people because in their culture the stigma is created fro the Africans and now Muslims after 9/11 attacks.

Social researchers have theoretically identified the role of cultural stigma on the people but empirically very less work has been done but now work has been started because of its immense and growing importance. Some social researchers have created hypothesis to test if the cultural stigma and stigmatized identities has any association with physiological distress in the people. Though stigmas are socially constructed by different social relationships, cultures, and institutions (Hebl &Dovidio, 2005; Link & Phelan, 2001) Over time researchers have started to argue that its really important to study the area of cultural stigmas and the internal factors which lead to cultural stigma because role of individuals is on a smaller scale but to combat stigmas its important to study the broader level now that is cultural stigma, where it originated. As researchers argue that some cultural groups like African black woman are marginalized and they suffer gender inequality and are deprived of their rights because in their culture, stigmas are associated to them; women as inferior to men. As Crenshaw states that “when we don’t pay attention to the margins, when we don’t acknowledge the intersection, where the places of power overlap, we not only fail to see the women who fall between our movements, [but] sometimes we pit our movements against each other.” (Crenshaw,1994)

However stigmatization is really a problem now and it should be measured so it could be controlled but there are short comings in measuring it. The first is that many social scientists who have categorized stigmatized groups can never really know what they go through because they haven’t lived and suffered and remained in that living conditions and they can never really measure it quantitatively. (Kleinman et al 1995) The second obstacle is that researchers compromise cultural stigma and focus on a single person and use individual approach to analyze and measure it as Oliver defines “the central thrust of stigma research has been focused on the perceptions of individuals and the consequences of such perceptions for micro-level interactions The stigma or mark is seen as something in the person rather than a designation or tag that others affix to the person” (Oliver,1992)

However cultural stigmas should be taken into account. Cultural stigmas are constructed by the large group of people in the society by differentiating people and labeling human with any differences. This is called creating a mark, stigma, which are undesirable marks or characteristics which create negative stereotypes in the cultures. Though previously cultures, society, people in power used their authorities to create stigmas but now there are different social groups which create stigmas and exaggerate stigmas like media channels, pressure groups, government etc.

From a younger age, kid’s cognitive abilities start to develop and kid develops many senses like receiving information, and at later age they start to interpret it according the exposure. If the surroundings around him resonate positive image of anything then they will perceive positive image but if negative image like crime shows etc then kid will develop hostile behavior likely. So it can be concluded that perceptions can be constructed as Feldman explains “Perception is the sorting out, interpretation, analysis and integration of stimuli involving our sense organs and brain” (Feldman, 1999). With the wave of technological advancement, media has gained immense popularity and recently the consumption of media content has grown a lot. Therefore now a day people consume a lot of media and receive information from media because it’s a primary source to gain notified or aware of any issue, event etc. Even if people do not learn anything they still watch media content and receive information. When people are exposed to media content repeatedly the media and figures have the power to influence and change the perception and that will eventually affect the behavior this is called cultivation theory and social cognitive theory which then aids in constructing stigmas. (Bandura, 2001).The media informs the people directly or indirectly that conveys the happening about the society which can be given any shape by the media. Although that is not true always that media has the power to change or alter the perceptions and theory of social construction of reality but one thing for sure that media has the power to create influence and have an impact of the attitudes of the people over the world which could be negative or positive; creating or eradicating stigmas depends on the use of media.

The stigmas are negative stereotype which should be eliminated so the role of such social groups will be very significant to eradicate stigmas. With the use of increased use of internet, the role of social media has been signified. Social websites like Facebook, Twitter etc are extensively used by people. If anything happens then its all over the social media, so stigmas can be discouraged. When people share stories, these stories are then replicated so the content is produced and create influence all over the people. Stigmas can be discouraged by educating people and creating awareness and raise voice against by protests. By educating people, the sense of responsibility is created among people like by telling them stats and figures of people who have suffered from stigmas like white people can be taught about the black people who have suffered, so they can realize and develop empathy and stop stigmatization. However for this new trend has been started like use of social sites to aware of stigmas researchers like Victoria Betton have empirically measured it by taking social site; Facebook, Twitter as these allow to share posts and if any trend comes up, they combats or creates hype cy creating hastags or sharing posts. Social media channels have started to launch anti stigma program extensively to change the attitudes of people towards usual stigmas. Programs like “New Zealand’s ‘Like Minds, Like Mine’ Facebook page entitled ‘Stigma Watch’ allows members to post and discuss media articles of concern because of their stigmatizing content, thereby providing a space for conversation. ‘Beyondblue’, Australia’s national depression and anxiety initiative, uses the hashtag #SmashTheStigma whenever stories of hope and recovery are posted, and has led to others using the hashtag to share anti-stigma efforts. Along with advertisements on YouTube, Spain’s ‘Obertament’ campaign uses Facebook and Twitter to inform people about their efforts to eradicate stigma. Denmark’s ‘En Af Os’ campaign’s Facebook page has attracted 16 398 ‘likes’” (Betton, 2015)

Such anti stigma campaigns are getting really popular and are use social media as channel to communicate the message to eradicate social stigmas. The most important thing is to change the attitude of the people by creating awareness to the less informed people so that they stop creating stigmatized groups and connect with people and accept the people with differences rather than labeling them.

Freelance Writer

I’m a freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Boston University. My work has been featured in publications like the L.A. Times, U.S. News and World Report, Farther Finance, Teen Vogue, Grammarly, The Startup, Mashable, Insider, Forbes, Writer (formerly Qordoba), MarketWatch, CNBC, and USA Today, among others.