Tracey McKee • November 14, 2023
Biases are part of human nature, a way our brain works to sort and navigate the world. On a very basic level, they are our preference for a person or thing over another person or thing, like preferring pop music to country music or city life to rural life. Biases develop early in our lives as we are influenced by people like our parents, teachers, authority figures, and peers. They are also influenced by the TV we watch, the books we read, the news, our environments, and our experiences.
Implicit/Unconscious Racial Bias: The thoughts that pop into our minds, the quick random gut reactions when we think about a particular group. They affect our behaviors in areas that maintain or exacerbate inequalities.
Biases offer our brains a shortcut to decision-making. They are often implicit – emanating from our subconscious automatically. Implicit biases become problematic, even dangerous, when they cause us to prefer or reject people based on stereotypes we associate with them rather than facts or experience. For example, a white person might cross the street to avoid walking past a Black man based on their bias that Black men are dangerous. Or, that same person may ask a Latina woman if she speaks English based on their prejudice that Hispanic or Latin American people are probably here illegally and only speak Spanish.
An important piece of anti-racism work is identifying the implicit biases we hold. This can be tricky because we don’t often realize these buried biases are the directors guiding our thoughts and actions toward others. But, we can begin to identify and break them down with some work.
- Consider groups of people you dislike or ignore because of stereotypes you hold of them rather than your interactions/experiences with them.
- Get to know individuals who belong to the group or groups for whom you hold biases. It is much harder to hang on to biases when we get to know people personally.
- Read literature and or watch television shows/movies that portray people of color, women, gays, lesbians, etc., in a positive light.
- Become familiar with the perspectives, history, and contributions of people for whom you hold stereotypes.
- If/when you feel bias kicking in, stop. Question your automatic behavior and replace it with intentional behavior.
It is important to remember that biases are a natural function of our brain; therefore, it is impossible to be completely unbiased. We can, however, work to lessen the strength of our negative biases and challenge the stereotypes they are based on. Gaining awareness of and questioning our negative biases is a solid step in becoming an anti-racist.
- “Bias.” Psychology Today, (www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/bias.) Accessed October 26, 2021.
- D.M. Marx, S.J. Ko. “Prejudice, Discrimination, and Stereotypes (Racial Bias).”, in Encyclopedia of Human Behavior (Second Edition), Elsevier/Academic Press, 2012.
- Bias | Psychology Today
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