Unconscious bias happens when discrimination occurs without the people even being aware that they are doing it. That’s one of the reasons it’s so common, and so difficult to counteract.
Black Americans often suffer indignities and unwarranted behaviors in their daily lives that their White counterparts don’t necessarily even notice. Have you ever shopped at a store only to have someone ask if you work there? Do people cross the street to avoid you? Or your teenage son? These biases range from everyday racist affronts, to work and school discrimination, to mistreatment by people in powerful positions like the police. Because unconscious biases can have long-lasting and serious consequences, it’s critical for any community striving to be truly inclusive that it work address these issues.
We all suffer from unconscious bias, though we often don’t know it (that’s why it’s unconscious!). But the good news is that prejudice and bias are learned behaviors that can therefore be unlearned. Unconscious bias comes from:
- our own experiences
- things other people tell us
- media portrayals
- institutional influences
- other external influences
The South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race is actively working to combat this. We are consciously fighting unconscious bias. The first step in overcoming unconscious bias to make people aware of it–especially because unconscious bias can cause people to act in ways that go against their stated beliefs and attitudes. Misunderstandings often occur because of cultural differences and blind spots, but they can be rectified through awareness, education, and exposure. Fighting unconscious bias is about changing culture, not about dealing with “a few bad apples”.
One of the best ways to combat unconscious bias is to increase opportunities for individuals from different groups to develop meaningful, ongoing relations and to:
- See differences—The idea of being colorblind actually negates or minimizes a person’s lived experience.
- Individuate — See the person as an individual rather than a stereotype. This allows you to recognize people based upon their own attributes rather than stereotypes.
- Take perspective — You can develop a better appreciation for someone’s concerns by considering the perspective of an outgroup member.
Another way to fight unconscious bias is through what Cook Ross calls “The Pause Method”:
Pay attention to what’s happening behind the judgments you make. You have to slow down to see what’s going on.
Ask yourself, “Am I making this decision based on a requirement of the business or based on my preference?”
Understand other possible judgments, interpretations, and reactions and how those possibilities might be just as valid.
Search for the most productive approach that will open up a relationship, rather than shut it down. Gain more information before making a final judgment?
Execute actions that are consistently inclusive.
Words are meaningful, but the Community Coalition on Race seeks to help our community stay accountable to its stated objectives when it comes to race. By giving people a safe space in which to express their thoughts and fears, ask questions, and learn from each other, the Community Coalition on Race is striving to create a community that is not just diverse, but fully integrated as well.
We’d like to tell you that SOMA is free from unconscious bias, but, unfortunately, it exists everywhere. What we can tell you is we don’t know any community fighting harder for to address racism in order to achieve true inclusion.
Visit the Community Coalition on Race’s website to learn more about our programs designed to fight bias.