There has been a lot of talk in the recent days and especially in the political craze, about racism, bigotry, gender discrimination and the like. During the debate Hillary Clinton throws out the term “Intrinsic bias” and Donald Trump won’t acknowledge that he has it.
The last thing this blog is supposed to be is a political statement. It isn’t. But I have to stop and ask myself why are we still talking about such terms and controversial issues in a day where we really should be accepting of all people, genders, and religions? But what I do want this blog to be is a way for each of us to look inward at ourselves (not to point fingers at the politicians) and see how much of these biases we have let take over our decisions.
In the first debate:
Lester Holt: Do you believe police are implicitly biased against black people.
Hillary Clinton: Lester I think implicit bias is a problem for everyone not just police.
So what exactly is IMPLICIT BIAS? First I think to understand implicit bias you have to know what Explicit Bias is. Explicit Bias is defined as: attitudes or beliefs that one endorses at a conscious level. Sometimes many people want to interchange Explicit Bias with racism, bigotry, gender discrimination and more. This version of bias is a choice and it is often clearly voiced and portrayed by the one holding the bias. This bias is a clear decision to believe something about a group and even though it may not be a popular stance it is a choice and it is conscious eve if it isn't admitted.
I don’t think it is popular to have this kind of bias anymore. No one feels safe to state these kinds of biases especially when it comes to race, gender and religion. This bias is STRONGLY scrutinized by the public and especially by the media. We even have laws to protect people on the receiving end of a negative bias and we should. Our country has had a long history of these biases and we have come far to overcome.
But I wonder….have we taken it too far? Have we stripped people of having a foundation of beliefs that they can call their own…in fear that it may offend others? I wonder….if we have truly conquered explicit bias or only traded it for implicit ones.
So what exactly is implicit bias? Implicit bias is defined as the the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes which often operate at a level below conscious awareness and thought. Implicit bias can still be taught but is described as a specific way the brain processes information. This one is harder to understand. Implicit biases are basically the inherent judgments we make based on the way our brain previously processed information or experiences.
For example; I tried this on my daughter and if you want to try it, there are many on line versions of such tests. But I sat her down and asked her to put the following jobs in one of the two categories. Male or Female. You try!
These are the biases that many of us never stop to think about. These are the biases that are not dependant on who I am but based more on what I have witnessed, been exposed to or have experienced personally. I answered those questions above without really knowing why. This type of bias get’s really complicated.
Some of them have been taught to me, some of them have been based on my own life’s personal experiences. I believe that all of us, every human being has some of these biases. My biases are based on fundamental religious teachings, childhood experiences or even unrealistic fears I had. They shaped my psyche. They molded me into an adult.
But these biases are also triggers for me. And in certain situations, or events they can really create an emotional rise. They are just there…and sometimes I didn’t even know it until a trigger caused me to lash out. I think these biases are far more dangerous to us than the other form. They are what make us react without thinking. They are what make us volatile in stressful situations.
I think these biases are why our police force is struggling when there is an intense situation they are not prepared to handle. I think these biases are why we have politicians flying off the handle when asked an emotional question.
Look, I am not an expert and I am not suggesting that intrinsic bias is always a bad thing. I actually think it’s like a sixth sense; a way to alert us in situations of danger, intimidation and fear. But what I think is happening in this country, is we are allowing the intrinsic biases to affect how we make decisions. The symptoms of intrinsic bias are everywhere and I worry.
So here is my message.
If you choose to have conscious biases (Extrinsic) – regardless to what they are for. They are yours. And as long as you choose knowingly and admit you have them, I will choose to respect them.
If you have subconscious biases (Intrinsic), and you find yourself surprised one day that you had a thought and wondered why you thought that way. Listen to yourself. Yourself is trying to tell you something. It might be trying to tell you to throw out the bias. It may be telling you to DECIDE to look at things differently.
All of this is way easier said than done. I have caught myself trying to change a thought that I really didn’t want in my head. Changing my ideas has taken hard work– sometimes it has been met with opposition. But I know as humans we are capable to change thoughts and behaviors if we want to. We have already come so far and we still have great strides to go.
But I think IF we can take one subconscious bias and move it into our conscious mind; we can grow our tolerance with each other….one thought at a time.