Are You Biased?
Here are some deep research-based practices for every-day consideration PLUS, at bottom, some links to articles on big ideas and global issues which may lead to action in the world.
What are the implications of this new way of thinking and conceptualizing brain function for our understanding of prejudice—and how can we use it to limit our own biases?
At its most basic level, this new understanding of the brain reveals it not as an organ showing the layers of our evolution, as might layers of sediment in a canyon. Rather than thinking in terms of dualistic structures—primitive/evolved, emotion/thought, limbic system/neocortex—we are coming to understand that the brain is much more interconnected than previously thought.
But beyond this understanding, these new findings show that our automatic processes (including our implicit biases) are not unchangeable, and that we can learn new behaviors that can become second nature.
An everyday example shows how this is possible. Consider that not one of us is born learning how to drive, and yet by the time many people are adults, we find ourselves not even thinking about it even as we expertly maneuver the car. One day, with practice, egalitarianism might be like driving a car: a skill learned over time but eventually so automatic as to be second nature.
So what are the tricks that you can use to stop the racist in you? There are many, of course, but here are six to consider that follow from the scientific insights we describe.
- Consciously commit yourself to egalitarianism [belief that everyone should be treated the same or equally and all should have the same rights. An example of egalitarian hiring methods is where people are not discriminated against on the basis of race of religion.
- But recognize that unconscious bias is no more “the real you” than your conscious values. You are both the unconscious and the conscious.
- Acknowledge differences, rather than pretend that you are ignoring them.
- Seek out friendship with people from different groups, in order to increase your brain’s familiarity with different people and expand your point of view.
- It’s natural to focus on how people are different from you, but try to consciously identify what qualities and goals you might have in common.
- When you encounter examples of unambiguous bias, speak out against them. Why? Because that helps create and reinforce a standard for yourself and the people around you, in addition to providing some help to those who are the targets of explicit and implicit prejudice.
Those are steps you can take right now, without waiting for the world to change.
But this research has implications that go well beyond the personal. The split-second reaction of a police officer who shoots an unarmed black man might not be very different from your own. Instead of asking the question of whether a person is or is not racist—because we’re all a mix—we can turn to thinking of the ways in which we might engineer our social environment to address racism and its worst effects, without believing that any one step will be a blanket fix.
Knowing that bias is part of the structure of our minds we can ask, for example, how can we
- change policing so that the results of bias are less deadly? https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/three_ways_to_reduce_implicit_bias_in_policing
- How can we address economic inequality between different groups so as to reduce the stress on communities that are historically the targets of racism? https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_inequality_does_to_kids
- What can school districts do to make sure teachers come in daily positive contact with different kinds of people, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/why_dont_students_take_social_emotional_learning_home
- How can we support teachers’ training in techniques to help them consciously reduce unconscious bias? https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/what_inequality_does_to_kids
There are many fronts in the campaign against bias, both implicit and explicit, but they all have one thing in common: us.
We are all potentially part of the problem—and we can all become a part of the solution.
This essay was revised and updated by Smith from a piece by Mendoza-Denton and Amanda Perez in the journal Othering & Belonging, published by the UC Berkeley Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society. http://www.otheringandbelonging.org/
For more information on ways to cultivate the practice of diversity in one’s life: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/diversity/definition#how-cultivate-diversity
Hexagon Project: We have online registration, where teachers and community group leaders can register and images can be uploaded. In 2019 we developed our first International 2019 Online Gallery and look forward to the 2020 Gallery. www.hexagonproject.org. Deadline for 2020 is June 30.