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Confronting Implicit Bias & The Racism That Fuels It

If we’re committed to being anti-racist and not just an ally (yes, there is a nuanced difference) then we have to engage in a conscious effort to unpack our own racism; eliminating the barriers we unconsciously put up when we’re made aware that something we’ve stated, shared or done is racist.

It probably comes as no surprise that it’s incredibly challenging for White People; myself included, to reconcile the fact that we all internalize, carry and perpetuate racist ideas and behaviours. Many of us would never consider ourselves willing participants in racism and the harm it inflicts, but the truth is, whether we’re capable of admitting it or not; we are. Racism is not just about explicit, bigoted and hate-filled ideologies, it’s also hidden within implicit bias fueled by systemic and structural racism. Confronting them; including harmful stereotypes and racial discrimination A graphic link to a post on Transatlantic Notes called Confronting Implicit Bias & The Racism That Fuels Itagainst Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) is often where becoming an anti-racist begins.

When it comes to healing America of racism, we want to heal America without pain, but without pain, there is no progress. | How to Be an Antiracist – Ibram X. Kendi


How do you typically respond when someone points out that your behaviour, words or actions are racist? Be brutally honest with yourself. If you become defensive and attempt to justify your problematic behaviour; rather than addressing what you’ve been informed about, you’re most likely reacting to your own feelings of discomfort. While this may be a common reaction — I experience this too — it’s not an effective way to deal with something as serious as racism; it needs to be tackled head-on. It’s critical to remember that no quick fix will enable us to navigate unlearning implicit bias and racism easily. Actively working on how we react when we’re called out for offensive, oppressive and inappropriate conduct is, however, something we can establish right now.

We all possess internal implicit bias. Often hidden within our subconscious, we hold onto harmful attitudes and stereotypes that have been ingrained within our mindset since birth. They manifest in any number of ways, including:

  • criminalizing normal/everyday behaviour
  • perceiving threats when there are none
  • treating BIPOC as a monolith and ascribing negative, universal human habits (laziness, drug use, etc.) as being particular to a certain racial/ethnic group
  • believing false biological differences exist (like Black people don’t feel pain in the same way White people do)
  • asserting that academic excellence in particular areas is harder/easier to reach based on someone’s race/ethnicity

In oversimplified terms, implicit bias and the racism that fuels it is about relating to specific groups of people as ‘other’; with Whiteness being regarded as the norm through which everything else is measured. This social lens frequently sees Whiteness as more advanced/better (superior); unknowingly infiltrating how we think until someone points it out.

photo by arthur endelman showing a protester holding a sign saying "eveyone vs. racism"
photo by Arthur Edelman

Here are six things you can put into practice that will help you respond more effectively when you’re made aware that something you’ve done is racist …

Hear What’s Being Said | … and avoid trying to rationalize your position. You may be embarrassed or horrified by your actions, but don’t let your reactive emotions get in the way of engaging with what you’ve just learned. Listening with purpose means being able to stop yourself from trying to preserve your own feelings or try to prove that you couldn’t possibly be racist (which is itself highly problematic). Pause and take a moment to check your own biases and understand that your perspective has to take a backseat.

Communicate Respect | … and understand that if you’ve never been on the receiving end of individual or structural racism, then you don’t get to debate or compare your hypothetical idea with someone else’s lived experience. It’s okay to be upset, but your feelings are not central to what is being discussed; your education about racism and what you can do to change your thinking takes precedence.

Proximity Isn’t Protection | … and it doesn’t matter whether you have a diverse familial or social circle; you’re still capable of perpetuating racist thoughts and actions. Racism doesn’t disappear or get excused because you have a Black friend, for example. If you fail to see how you are part of the problem then your connection to being part of the solution is superficial and performative. If you’re serious about being anti-racist, you need to actively listen, learn and show up for the Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in your life. There is no immunity from racism’s reach just because you have BIPOC family, friends, neighbours or work colleagues.

To refuse to listen to someone’s cries for justice and equality until the request comes in a language you feel comfortable with is a way of asserting your dominance over them in the situation. | So You Want To Talk About Race – Ijeoma Olou

Intentions Don’t Outweigh Outcome | … and well-meaning motivations do not absolve you from the consequences of your words and actions. By focusing on intention rather than impact, you end up disregarding someone else’s pain. This does not leave much room for changed behaviour; which is the best kind of apology. When you know better, you can do better, it’s really that simple.

photo by kalea morgan showing a protester holding a sign that reads,'silence is oppression'
photovia Kalea Morgan/Unsplash

People Aren’t Getting More Offended | … racist “jokes”, comments, opinions and presumptions have always been deeply objectionable; you’re just more likely to get challenged about it. There isn’t more sensitivity, there’s more empowerment. Times change, and there’s a wealth of knowledge out there that’s enabled calling out tired, old racist tropes much easier than before.

Don’t Tone Police | … and remember that being educated about racism is an extremely privileged position to be in. BIPOC are not obligated to lead you step-by-step through the process; making it more palatable for you to hear. The experiences and knowledge they choose to share are deeply personal and often carry immense trauma. Trying to control how someone communicates their lived experience so that you feel more at ease about hearing it is incredibly disrespectful.

Becoming anti-racist represents a lifelong dedication to unlearning our own implicit bias; then utilizing our collective knowledge to dismantle racism everywhere it exists within society. It’s a fight for equality, equity and liberation; it’s going to be uncomfortable — and that’s as it should be.

What are you unlearning?

Further Info:

‘Not Racist’ Is Not Enough: Putting In The Work To Be Anti-Racist – NPR

The Psychology of American Racism – APA PsychNet

How We Should Talk About Racial Disparities – Urban Institute

The BIPOC Project

What It Means To Center Ourselves In Conversations — And How To Practice Decentering Instead – The Good Trade

13 thoughts on “Confronting Implicit Bias & The Racism That Fuels It”

  1. This was a great read. Learning about structural racism can be a challenging one because the case the majority of the time is that you were completely unaware you’ve been a part of something, even if it was in the past. Your 6 things are all very important to remember.


    1. It’s definitely tough finally seeing what structural racism is, why it was designed, how it works and the impact it has. Now that we know we must help others see it and actively work to dismantle it. How we respond to our own implicit bias is a small step forward but worth doing. Thank you so much for reading!


  2. You’ve mentioned amazing points Molly and I like how you explain this interwoven topic. You see, I also believe that the world would be a much better place if we can apologise for our actions more often. It’s not just about racism but all spheres of our lives. People should say sorry when they’re wrong particularly public figures to show good examples.

    I’m most happy that Ijeoma’s book is on your recommendation. That makes me very proud as a Nigerian.

    Cheers! And I hope 2021 is much more better in terms of racism and other societal issues.


    1. I agree 100% — an real apology that involves changed behaviour, recognition and reconciliation can be a truly powerful thing — so much good can come from it.

      I love Ijeoma’s work, she is an incredible writer and I’m looking forward to reading her latest book. Her perspective on things bring so much education and clarity — remarkable!

      Liked by 1 person

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