We’re taking a long, slow look at bias — that set of unconscious attitudes or stereotypes that inform our behavior without our being aware — this week. And, given the news we’re surrounded with, it’s timely.
My first introduction to “bias” was in 8th grade Home Economics class where I learned just how difficult it was to “cut on the bias.” (There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.)
I was also taught (in that grade school exercise I mentioned in last week’s post) that bias is different from prejudice.
My teacher said the difference resides in whether or not facts are involved (bias, yes; prejudice, no).
I want to make a further distinction, that of conscious awareness.
conscious awareness: prejudice, yes; bias, no.
While it was quite easy for me to identify “motorcycle riders” as a group I wanted nothing to do with, my biases are less clear to me. I’m sure I have them. We all do. But are we aware of them? Can we name them?
I’ll go one better. I’ll wager that we can all identify bias in people close to us (or even some not so close) yet believe we ourselves are quite free of bias. At least the kind that results in unfair or stereotypical behavior toward others.
Ethnocentrism — the idea that our own culture is the “right” one — is a particular favorite bias of mine.
Of course, THIS is the right way; it’s the way it’s always done.
This only means we haven’t yet met enough people.
Today though, my attention is focused here at home.
We are engaged in this country in a battle over what is right, what is decent, what is true.
It’s a battle …
over who can use which bathroom,
over who can buy guns,
over when life begins,
over who can vote,
over who we should allow across our borders,
and over whether racism thrives.
To survive this battle, it seems to me, we first need to understand our own biases.
For anyone who knows me, you know my spiel that
for every finger you point at someone else,
you’ve got three more pointing back at you.
So, the job we have is to look at ourselves, for we are, really, the only ones we have any control over.
In that spirit, I’ve begun to reexamine my own assumptions about racism, and the patterns of institutionalized white privilege that have long surrounded me.
Will you join me?
Here’s a fun and fascinating link from MTV that offers two short quizzes, testing your own bias on gender and race.
Or this one from the folks at understanding prejudice (dot org)
And here’s a graphic that narrows a list of over 150 different biases down to the top twenty. It’s put out by Business Insider.
So, there’s research out there on bias, whether from university social psychology departments or the financial services industry.
Let’s test it out:
Before we go further, just note your reaction to that logo.
Any judgments? Any memories? Any associations?
Do you remember the first time you heard their name?
Do you counter Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter?
Do you feel you’d support the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement if only they’d speak more softly, be more polite, know their place, wait their turn?
Do you hear yourself saying, “Color doesn’t matter to me; I’m colorblind.” And, its natural consequence, do you hesitate to even mention skin color to the blacks you meet?
You can read more about the Black Lives Matter movement on their website.
Have you seen the five-minute video of the “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist?” Broadway show? Do you think its funny? Do you agree with their claim?
I don’t have anything particularly wise or at all entertaining to leave you with today. My aim is not to talk you out of any of your biases.
I have only a request for you to pay attention to their impact, identify them, maybe understand where they come from.
And vow to not let them color your compassion.
How about you?
We all have biases, and you are right that we don’t recognize them, or at least not all of them. I think it would be impossible to–as that Business Insider graphic makes clear. (Thanks for sharing that, by the way.)
I also wanted to clarify that “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” is a song from the musical, Avenue Q. It’s not exactly a spoof of Sesame Street, but it is all puppets, and many of them are similar to Sesame Street characters. I think the show came out when my older daughter was in high school.
Also–there’s a summer TV show on called “Brain Dead.” It’s by the creators of The Good Wife, and it involves Washington politics and alien creatures that eat parts of the brain. It’s kind of a spoof of people’s prejudices and biases–so people become more conservative or more liberal. One woman doesn’t understand when someone tells her that they can’t just kill liberals, while another guy–brandishing the knife he got during a pledge drive to The Splendid Table– is going crazy over cuts to NPR.
You’re the second person to recommend Brain Dead to me. It sounds hilarious actually. But it’s on at 10 pm ! And it’s network (I think, yes?) which means commercials. I’m afraid I’ve gotten quite spoiled watching Netflix. You might say I’m now biased against network TV.
Thanks for taking the time to check out all my various links, Merril. And I’m glad you liked the graphic.
You know I don’t stay up late, Janet. We record shows and then fast forward through the commercials! 🙂 But I like Netflix, too.
Joan Z. Rough
Biases? We all have them and they seem to stem from the experiences we’ve had during our lifetimes. Did living in Germany as a four year old after WWII affect how I feel about war and politics? You betcha. Along with simple things like always having small dogs versus large dogs as I grew up and being fed the kinds of food I prefer to eat now all have played a part in sculpting my person and my biases. To be aware of them is the ticket to moving on or not. It all depends on what you choose in any given circumstance.
Joan, I hope you’ve included this chapter in your soon-to-be-released memoir. It’s a part of your story I hadn’t known before.
Thanks so much for stopping by and adding your voice.
Janet, I appreciate what you’re doing with these latest pieces. If we all spent merely a fraction of the time exploring our own biases as we do rationalizing existing thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, this world would undoubtedly be transformed. Keep doing the good work, and I will endeavor to do the same. Best, T
Thank you Tim. That means a great deal to me. We’ll keep encouraging each other. AND, I’ll remind my readers that if you click on Tim’s missing photo (smiley face here), you’ll be connected to his blog. I recommend it.
Thanks, Janet. ‘Appreciate the plug, and will work on that photo 🙂