Social stigma

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Social stigma is  essentially  the use of a single aspect of someone's identity as a marker to deny them equal or fair treatment as a human being so as to reduce their status in the eyes of others which is done for social, economic or political power. This definition, which is my own definition, differs significantly from other definitions of social stigma, such as those by sociologists such as Irving Goffman and Bruce Link and Jo Phelan, in that I define social stigma as a social aberration and cause of inequality which has two aspects - external and internal - and results in status loss, denial of opportunity, and denial of individual life experience. Therefore social stigma forms the basis of discrimination and inequality.

The aspects of social stigma

I define social stigma has having two aspects - external and internal. This is because while social stigma is a part of social interact6ion between two or more people not everyone experiences social stigma or its effects.

External social stigma

External social stigma is stigma which is directed outwards towards another person or group of people. External social stigma can be institutional, authoritarian such as from a hierarchy or authority towards a person or group of people, for example as part of a far right ideology or belief system or it may be individual from someone who shares a similar belief system or ideology. Most people stigmatize others to varying degrees which takes places either as a result of ignorance, or indoctrination or social conditioning. Therefore external social stigma is based on a belief attachment which is rooted in a social or cultural belief.

Internal social stigma

Internal social stigma refers to the aspect of social stigma as experienced by someone who is stigmatized. Many people are stigmatized especially in social systems based around capitalism which promote social inequality and encourage competition and the acquisition of profit. This creates inequality and poverty in ways which promote various social, economic and political advantages, which results in such things as status loss, deprivation and denial of opportunities, deprivation and denial of individual human experience and social exclusion. Much of this is created through artificial scarcity therefore social stigma is not a normal part of social progress or development of society or culture but a form of oppression directed at certain people and a social issue in itself.

Social markers

Social markers are aspects of someone's identity which are generally perceived to be disadvantageous or to carry stigma.There are four broad categories of social markers. All these categories are as perceived by the person who stigmatizes someone else and this perception is on the basis of their individual belief attachment.

This includes major forms of stigma such as that relating to perceived race, sex, gender identity and ethnicity, people struggling with obesity and disabilities, age related stigma, and certain religious beliefs such as Islam and judaism.

This includes such stigma as that relating to mental illness, spectrum related conditions such as autism and Asperger's Syndrome, people struggling with certain addictions, people with past criminal convictions, etc.

This is stigma relating to physical abilities and disabilities but also may be linked to the other forms of stigma.

This is stigma which is related to perceived assumptions about someone's lifestyle or background which can be shown towards people who are not working, people with disabilities, ethic minorities, and other forms of social stigma.

Modes of stigma

External social stigma can be expressed through a variety of modes (shown below) towards a person or group of people who all carry the social markers which are perceived as stigma or disadvantageous. In each case there is perceived 'status loss' which creates the inequality within the social encounter or interaction. As a general rule the more socially intimate the encounter is, the more proactive or active the mode of external social stigma will be expressed.

Examples include avoidance, shunning, marginalization, sidelining, denial of opportunity, denial of individual human experience, and exclusion.

Examples include indifference, false alliances/friendships and backstabbing.

Active modes include proactive dis-empowerment, threats, intimidation and verbal/physical attacks.

Social stigma v. bullying

While the effects of both social stigma and bullying might be the same or very similar for the victim there are very clear differences between social stigma and bullying. Usually in cases of bullying the perpetrator has some personal knowledge of the victim and the hostility is directed towards the victim as an individual. However when it comes to social stigma no prior or personal knowledge of the victim is necessary for the hostility towards the victim is motivated by whatever perceived social marker which carries the stigma. Furthermore hostility is shown by the perpetrator to everyone who carries the social markers which trigger the hostility. Likewise it is the perceived social marker which triggers the hostility towards the victim from different people who have no connection or relationship with each other. People who are stigmatized through various social markers therefore face numerous instances of hostility from random people which makes their lives much more difficult and affects the quality of their lives.

Status loss and dehumanization

Social stigma in creating divisions between people and inequality involves status loss and dehumanization. By dehumanization I'm referring to the loss of human rights which comes from the denial of equality and the categorization of someone on the basis of a perceived social marker into a broadly defined 'them' category which is part of the broadly defined 'us' and 'them' categories which serve to create the division and inequality. I define a human right as natural ability to live and function in a way which does not cause any harm whatsoever to any other person, living being or the environment and to be able to live and function without being harmed by anyone or anything else. This is an aspect of existence. If you have been born, and you can breathe and wake up in the morning then you are human and equal to every other person and sentient being on the planet. A human right is not something which exists as a result of legislation or Man-made laws. That is social privilege.

Status loss is a part of this dehumanization process where people who are stigmatized are denied such things as access to opportunities in education, housing, employment, access to civic amenities and services such as healthcare and welfare support, and even denial of freedom of choice and the ability to be themselves openly in a social environment. This leads to a denial of opportunity, denial of individual human experience, a loss of autonomy, social division, social fragmentation and social exclusion. This creates numerous issues and barriers for those who are stigmatized - social, economic, financial, psychological and emotional - which they have to deal with constantly in their lives.

Derailment strategies

Derailment strategies are also part of social stigma and are used to deny the validity of individual human experience and to dis-empower those with social markers who are stigmatized.

Derailment strategy Premise
Using education This places the responsibility for education and enlightenment on the person being stigmatized.
Using anger This is based on accusing the person being stigmatized of hostility or anger.
Using emotion This is based on accusing the stigmatized person of being over emotional.
Using distraction This strategy is based on changing the subject or trying to find a worse case example.
Using retaliation This is a strategy which is based heavily on denial of individual experience and setting up various straw man arguments to either diminish or deny the validity of someone's individual and personal experience.
Using intellectualism This is a strategy which serves to reduce the experience to an intellectual discussion and then accuse the stigmatized individual of not being intellectual enough, being too intellectual, or using emotion over facts.
Using humour This is a strategy which is based on making a joke out of the depersonalization.
Using entitlement Here the person with privilege (the one who is stigmatizing) denies their privilege and claims to be also stigmatized or indeed claims that the stigmatized individual is claiming privilege over them.
Using personal attacks This is a strategy which is based on making personal attacks on the stigmatized individual.