Why Should We Be Concerned About Our Own Unconscious Biases??
What is unconscious bias? I believe it is important to define unconscious bias and show how it has a powerful effect on how we think and how we react to certain groups, places or things.
Unconscious bias is how we feel internally about groups, places or things that are hidden in our subconscious mind that we are not aware of. These feelings are usually not positive, they can cause an internal prejudice or negative response when we come face to face with them. These biases can have a strong influence on how we judge certain groups or places or things. Bias can affect who we hire, who we choose to marry, who we choose as friends, places we visit or not visit and so much more.
I was made aware of unconscious bias a few years ago when a friend asked me if I would consider reading a book she was writing about the subject. I was thrilled she asked me to read the book and give my opinion of the information she was sharing in the book. I was so taken by our rich conversations around the topic, that I could not wait to do more research on the topic for myself. I was fascinated by what I learned about the brain and how the mind functions. You and I both know that the mind is a wonderful complex computer that stores a lot of data beginning at our birth.
What I discovered is that the brain with all of it’s wonderful abilities to process, store and recover data, it can only maintain about 8% of the data it has received at a time. The massive amount of information that is stored up in our unconscious or subconscious brain is beyond our imagination.
Over time many of us have changed some of our earlier training and/or belief systems and knowledge base. That means we have changed our original trend of thought on certain ideologies. This change may have come because of experiences and relationships that have proven that our original thoughts and/or ideas were not true. Many of us may have gain knowledge in certain areas that we were not introduced to, until later in life. Therefore now, we may have a different opinion about a topic or ideology than we had years ago.
Since unconscious bias is a set of beliefs, opinions, preferences hidden in our subconscious state, based on what we learned earlier in life about a subject, group of people, location, etc. This is a very powerful piece of information.
Unfortunately, these biases can cause extreme disruptions in the workplace, in church, at the grocery store or at the park. These hidden ideas can cause reactions that expose themselves to us at inconvenient times. These reactions can cause great discomfort and disruption in our mind and make us feel threatened in a way that demands us to say “out loud” a negative response.
A good example of this concept is the very negative debasing response of Amy Copper in early May 2020, when she was asked to put her dog on a lease in Central Park. The African American male, Mr. C. Cooper, who asked her to obey this park rule, was spread with curse words, inappropriate and disruptive behavior that included a phone call to the police to have him arrested. Ms. Cooper’s unconscious bias, white privilege and un-contained emotional behavior later led to the termination of her job.
An example of unconscious bias may be associated with how uncomfortable one may feel around young black males who wear hoodies. The media has really done great job of making all black men criminals. But black men with hoodies seem to be a threat for many in our communities especially since Trevon Martin a black teenager was killed. He was a 17-year-old boy, walking with a hoodie on his head. His killer thought he had a weapon, when in reality this 17- year-old had skittles and pop in his hand. Could it be that his killer had an unconscious or conscious bias against black males? The other thought might be was his killer a racist? I will let you decide the answer to that last question.
It is important that we make ourselves aware of our OWN unconscious biases. Please pay attention to who you trust and don’t trust and why? Who makes you uncomfortable and why? Why do you not go to certain stores, certain parts of town, certain establishments? Why do you live only in certain neighborhoods? We all have our own opinions and narratives around the answers for these questions.
While talking to my friend, about unconscious bias, we noted a bias that I have been struggling with. I never wanted to admit that I had a bias, but it was true, I did. So, I immediately begin the necessary work on myself to free myself from this unconscious bias. The hardest part was admitting I had a bias. After I identified the bias, I identified where it came from. My next step was to view areas of change in my own mind. This was not easy for me, but after time I was able to change my mind around that issue.
Unconscious bias may be the reason, certain organizations only have a certain race of people in leadership roles. It may be unconscious bias, that hinders those who serve on your executive board of directors. It could unconscious bias that eliminates pay raises for lower-grade employees. It could be unconscious bias that prevents one from exploring a diverse staff, diverse board members or round table discussions with people who do not look like you.
Unconscious bias, could be why so many black men and women are incarcerated for petty crimes, that require large bail bond amounts, while others who are white commit the same crimes, but do not have be incarcerated because their parents can afford to pay the bail.
It could be unconscious bias that causes judges to be more tolerant of crimes from certain populations.
It could be unconscious bias, that causes woman to be victims of domestic violence. Some men may have a unconscious bias against women, even though they enjoy the intimacies of being with a women. There are well documented cases of domestic abuse where the victims end of in prison. Tragically, women who have been violently abused for years go to jail, because when they finally defend themselves from the abuser and he (the abuser) is killed or fatally wounded, our justice system punishes her for “self defense”.
It could be unconscious bias that influences our white female teachers to continue to suspend our black and brown student males and females from school. They may have a bias against children of color even though they enjoy teaching. Often for very minor offenses in the classroom children of color are put out of school for a length of time. These suspensions eventually cause the child to fall behind in his or her class work and is unable to achieve the necessary skills to past the state test, do homework, quizzes, etc. These tactics of “denial of education” are very common in urban and non-urban school environments. Parents have complained, PTA members are aware of the problem, but little has been accomplished to address and change the problem. Many teachers refuse to look for alternative methods to discipline the student. Many of the students of color do not graduate because of the teacher’s failure to teach all students. All teachers should take another look at the possibility of unconscious bias and how it affects students in your class room.
I am so inspired by the words my friend wrote in my book.
“Keep On Breaking Free”.
These are the words I want to encourage you with today.
Keep breaking free of your unconscious bias.
My friend’s book is “Breaking Free From Bias” by Marilyn O’Hearne