A black and white photo of a protestor holding a sign that reads: Dear White People, When A Black Person Tells You Something Is Offensive Or Racist, You Don't Get To Say It's Not! Listen! Photo by Jakayla Toney.
Advocacy & News, Awareness & Unlearning

Doing The Work: Tackling Implicit Bias

If we’re actively committed to anti-racism, we must carry out the work to unlearn and critically examine our personal implicit bias. Individual racism isn’t merely about torch burning or hate-filled violence; it’s also about tackling the quiet, often unquestioned perceptions that uphold racist systems, attitudes, behaviours and actions.

Everyone carries implicit bias; we all hold onto stereotypes about other groups of people based on what society assures us are the “norms” that we should all seek to uphold. Informed by how we are brought up (parental and cultural influences) and how we understand/interact with our surroundings; it soon becomes so conditioned within us that we sometimes scarcely perceive its presence.

A graphic link to an Advocacy & News: Awareness & Unlearning post on Transatlantic Notes called Doing The Work: Tackling Implicit Bias.

The problem with societal “norms” that drive implicit bias is that one group or way of being is held up as an archetype by which we’re all measured. Within the United States, for example, the model of “normality” is overwhelmingly cis-gendered and White. The ability to regard specific groups of people as “other” allows space for this to develop into negative perception and action that is targeted and ongoing.

One particular example of implicit bias that exists here in America is the criminalization of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) while going about their daily lives. We glimpse it repeatedly when White people (in particular) call the police or follow/threaten BIPOC for existing in ways or spaces that are perceived as objectionable. Their presence in neighbourhoods; prospective university tours; enjoying the sunshine in a local park or even decorating their own property is demonised. The people who call the police when no illegal activity or criminal act has been committed are putting their implicit biases into action.

A Black woman at a BLM protest hold a sign saying 'Color Is Not A Crime'. Photo by Clay Banks.
photo via Clay Banks

When driven by racial stereotypes, implicit bias is racist. It’s as problematic, damaging and harmful as overt and conscious acts of racism. Not only does it potentially put BIPOC in situations of danger (interactions with police or other citizens can be deadly), it fuels structural inequality.

In a society that privileges white people and whiteness, racist ideas are considered normal throughout our media, culture, social systems, and institutions. Historically, racist views justified the unfair treatment and oppression of people of color (including enslavement, segregation, internment, etc.). We can be led to believe that racism is only about individual mindsets and actions, yet racist policies also contribute to our polarization. While individual choices are damaging, racist ideas in policy have a wide-spread impact by threatening the equity of our systems and the fairness of our institutions. To create an equal society, we must commit to making unbiased choices and being antiracist in all aspects of our lives. | NMAAHC

A protest sign that reads: It's A Privilege To Educate Yourself About Racism Instead Of Experiencing It. Photo by James Eades.
photo via James Eades

The important anti-racism work we need to do as a society starts with us as individuals. We must be willing to take a candid look at what drives our own preconceived ideas about other people. It’s exceedingly uncomfortable to undertake this journey, especially when we finally grasp that something we’ve believed, said or done is racist. The aim of our actions and behaviours may not have been explicitly rooted in racism — but intent does not override impact. If we cause or perpetuate harm, it’s our responsibility to change that and make it better. Hiding behind good intentions will not advance us forward; it doesn’t magically offset the damage that racism inflicts.

By becoming aware of any race/ethnicity-based assumptions that treat people as a monolith, we can begin identifying any harmful stereotypes we’re holding onto. We must take the time to really unpack the ramifications our implicit bias has.

Who benefits from us thinking this way?

What harm does it allow to continue?

Who is disadvantaged by it?

When we start asking questions like these, we’re investing in an opportunity to expand our knowledge, challenge our implicit bias and end our role in supporting racism.

How are you challenging your implicit biases? How comfortable are you talking about internalized racism with other people?


Further Info:

Implicit or Unconscious Bias – Simple Psychology

How To Combat Implicit Bias – The Undefeated

Don’t Talk About Implicit Bias Without Talking About Structural Racism – Medium

National Equality Project

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10 thoughts on “Doing The Work: Tackling Implicit Bias”

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on implicit bias, Molly! I checked out all the links you provided. My favorite is the link to the article “Stop Expecting Black People To Be A Monolith” by Vena Moore. Also, the image you shared of the protester’s sign is a powerful statement “It’s a privilege to educate yourself about racism instead of experiencing it!” I appreciate your work on implicit bias and anti-racism and will continue to follow your work.

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  2. This is really excellent. I’m involved in a LeanIn circle and we work on identifying unconscious bias, no matter what its basis. There are some funny people involved who think that the fact they attend meetings where they voice an opinion if unfairness of bias means that they themselves cannot possibly be biased. Then these same people belittle female colleagues, talk over them and treat their own daughters like precious delicate flowers – so much for being unbiased.
    Like you say, we all carry unconscious bias based on stereotypes, in order to prevent those biases from producing inequality and unjust outcomes we must recognize them and then ignore them.
    Again, great article thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you so much for the work you do on this — it’s amazing how mnay people have no idea that bias, in many different forms, even exisits. Then there are those who deny or even will refuse to comprehend how this needs to be tackled as they don’t want to admit that they have it. It was uncomfortable for myself to admit I’ve been conditioned to see things in a certain way, but I want to put the work in to unlearn it all, and thankfully more people seem to be coming around to acknowledging that this is where anti-racism begins. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  3. As a white person, it sickens me to think that people are treated this way due to their skin color. I like to think that I treat everybody equal and stand up for anyone I believe is being treated wrong, whether that’s race, religion, disability etc.

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    1. It is a sad condition of society that implicit bias against certain groups creeps into us from the day we are born — but if we are open to addressing it within ourselves we can definitely be part of the solution and not continue being part of the problem. Thank you for being dedicated to treating people with equality, it begins with us.

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  4. Racism is SUCH an important topic, so thank you for raising this issue on your blog and using your platform for good. Honestly it downright pisses me off that some people don’t believe racism exists- or worse, are racist. We need to be doing more. We need to be acting- and passing the mic.

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