Understanding implicit bias can be an extremely difficult task for most people. It requires a degree of self-awareness and a willingness to admit that, sometimes, many of our daily interactions with other people are colored by prejudice, even when we mean well. Nobody wants to own up to assuming that a person is less intelligent because of their hair color, or less capable because of their age, or more dangerous because of the color of their skin.
But, the reality is that we all have our own biases that need to be acknowledged, unpacked, and unlearned.
As a young(ish) black male, I’ve come face-to-face with race-based bias more often than I could even attempt to quantify. While it’s not uncommon for interactions fueled by biases to result in viral videos and attention-grabbing headlines, it’s much more common for them to express themselves in the form of the tiny, and seemingly harmless, micro-aggressionsthat members of minority people groups encounter throughout everyday life.
No person of color is a stranger to moments like having your name intentionally mispronounced because it’s slightly less common than “John” (Seriously, if you can pronounce Polish last names where “-dzki” is a common suffix, you can figure out “Jamel” without making a show of it), or being complimented for having the ability to speak well, or walking through a high-end store and receiving an undue amount of attention, or conversely, none at all. In fact, these interactions are so commonplace that they often garner no reaction at all. Encountering bias is a part of life for many of us, and navigating it eventually becomes second nature.
Sifting through my thoughts about this particular topic caused me to take a look at my own prejudices. What I found was that, in a strange way, being aware of how much of a role implicit bias and micro-aggressions play in my day-to-day interactions has led to me forming biases of my own as a bit of a defense mechanism.
Simply put, I assign biases to certain groups of people before I even give them a chance to exhibit them. When I see a police officer, I expect them to single me out and treat me unfairly. When I speak to “baby boomers”, I expect to have my life experiences minimized and to be written off as an unmotivated millennial. When I meet a vegan, I expect them to proselytize endlessly on the health benefits of removing delicious McDonalds double cheeseburgers from my diet.
So what can we do about it?
While it’s likely impossible to completely rid yourself of biases, what we can do is limit the amount of control they have over our actions. In order to accomplish this, we must acknowledge our prejudices and then work to make sure that our interactions are not governed by them.
As difficult as it may be, this will require you to admit that this blog is about you. You show favor or prejudice based on snap judgements of people that you’ve met. Like it or not, youcan be kind of a jerk at times, but, hey, so can I. I’ve taken a long look in the mirror and named some of my biases. Can you name some of yours?
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!