Advocacy & News

Implicit Bias & Anti-Racism

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.

photo via Clay Banks

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

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 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? 

Further Reading:

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 “Implicit Bias & Anti-Racism”

  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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