Recently a friend who has a disability called me, very upset. She told me that a group she belongs to had formed a subgroup - calling it a women's group -but hadn't invited her or a number of other people to join despite the fact that this subgroup was acting under the auspices of the main group that was an open organization.
Not realizing that it was intended to be exclusionary, my friend had found out where they met, trekked over there and went from room to room in the building to find their meeting. When she discovered that it was an exclusionary subgroup that she was not "supposed " to find, she was very hurt and stopped going to the main group.
Over the space of a few weeks, it came to light that two other women we know who are disabled also were not "invited" to join the woman's group. One called several women who were attending and asked for details. The woman didn't answer her. And, although the location became known at some point, when these women showed up it was changed.
Discrimination on the basis of disability? My guess is that a number of people, disabled and not, were excluded. It might be kind of humorous (if it wasn't such hurtful behavior) that they called it a women's group, acting as if they needed a separate group from the main for women's issues - and then turned around and discriminated against others.
Then there's the issue of scapegoating which is different than trying to distinguish discrimination from dislike based on dealing with a person. Scapegoating is a result of discrimination and prejudice but can look as if it's legitimate when a person from a minority is "picked on" for personal traits that would be tolerated when shown by someone else in the "in group" - but these same behaviors are not tolerated by someone in the "out group" and are used to justify exclusion. When an individual is scapegoated, she is blamed when the "fault lies elsewhere", according to the Anti Defamation League.
So what causes this kind of behavior on the basis of discrimination and prejudice? There is a distinct difference between thinking something that is discriminatory and acting in ways to promote those exclusionary beliefs. At this point someone might jump up, draw a chart and point at a continuum on it to pinpoint where it falls.
But I don't think that answers the question of what drives people to go out and create an exclusionary subgroup to an otherwise open organization. And what about the fact that the open organization colludes by not disbanding it when its purposes are "found out"? Does it seem too subtle a type of discrimination to people?
To my friend who hasn't returned to the main group, it wasn't subtle at all.