One thing we must do if we are actively committed to anti-racism and the unlearning that this vital work requires is being able to fully examine our own personal implicit biases. Individual racism isn’t just 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 has implicit bias. We all hold onto stereotypes of other groups of people based on what society tells us are the “norms”, the status quo that we should all seek to uphold. This informs how we are brought up (parental and cultural influences) and how we understand and interact with our surroundings. It soon becomes so conditioned within us that we often don’t even notice their presence.
The problem with the societal “norms” that drive implicit bias, is that one particular group, or way of being, has to be held up as the archetype by which we are all measured. Within the United States, for example, the model of “normality” is overwhelmingly White and cis-gendered. The ability, therefore, to mark specific groups of people as “other” creates space for this to become ongoing, targeted, negative perception and action.
One particular example of implicit bias that exists here in America is the criminalization of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPoC). We see it time and time again when White people, in particular, call the police or follow/threaten BIPoC when they’re just trying to go about their daily lives. Their presence in their own neighbourhoods, on prospective tours of a university, sitting in a local park enjoying the sunshine or even decorating their own property, is demonized. The people who called the police — when no illegal activity or anything remotely close to a criminal act is being committed — are putting their implicit biases into action.
Implicit bias, when driven by racial stereotypes, 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
The important anti-racism work we need to do as a society starts with us as individuals. We must be willing to take an honest look at what drives our own subconscious, preconceived ideas about other people. It’s very uncomfortable to do this, especially if we’re made aware that something we believe, have said or done is racist when that was not our aim — but intent does not override impact. If we cause or perpetuate harm, we have to do the work to change that and make it better. Hiding behind good intentions will not move us forward because it doesn’t magically undo the damage that racism inflicts.
We must become aware of any assumptions or beliefs we have that treat people, based on their race or ethnicity, as a monolith as it’s likely to be based on a stereotype. When we catch ourselves thinking or acting in this way we must take the time to really unpick why we hold this view. Who benefits from us thinking this way? What does it allow to continue? Who is disadvantaged by it? When we start asking ourselves questions like these we begin to see 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?
Implicit or Unconscious Bias – Simple Psychology
How To Combat Implicit Bias – The Undefeated