I have always known that I have some bias either inherent or implicit about some other group or individuals. But, I am not alone in the fact that I see differences when I should see the similarities; we all have some skewed visions and observations about the world that we live in. Let me first define bias so we all have some context:
Frequently called implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious and seemingly irrational way. These biases, which include both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without a person’s awareness or intentional control. These assessments are in the subconscious. Therefore, they are different than those that we are aware of and hide and are not easy to identify. For a simple example, I don’t like those lime green cars that I occasionally see. To me they are horrid but if I was talking to an owner of one I would not say that I thought it was terrible. That would be the “politically correct” response. But, the implicit associations we have in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance. These attitudes develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages. We are influenced by family, friends, the media, and most recently by social media communication. It is difficult to differentiate between the haters and the trolls!
The overall consensus proposed by those who want to change the present bias controlled dialog seems to be that we have to begin talking about the problems concerning race, homophobia, and gender inequality. So, who do we talk to in order to change the dynamic currently in our daily lives? Political discourse, forums, and community meetings have been fostered and promoted for years but the problem seems worse. Perhaps it has really remained static and we are simply hearing about these egregious behaviors due to everything being videotaped and circulated via social and the mainstream media.
But, I have a different explanation and it is that we are “hardwired” to focus, at least subconsciously, on differences. If we look back at the history of early mankind we learn that there were groups of our very early ancestors and they depended on the strength of the group and to fear other or different people. Resources were scarce and survival depended on protection and preservation of the group or tribe. So, fast-forward to today and what do we see? Across the world there are tribes that tend to be close to others who believe in the same values and traditions. Whether it is religion, gender, political, or racial, the comfort level is greater in groups with similarities. Those who fail to support the group are different and are either to be feared or at least dismissed as not part of the fraternity.
So, what is the bottom line to this dilemma? We do know that hardwiring can be changed but it has not yet really happened. We do need to continue having group discussions but we need to examine our own individual biases in the process. There is a test to learn about our own biases called Projectimplicit from Harvard but I don’t need a test to examine my own hidden agenda. I have to question why I feel the way I do and then be honest about what I learn.
Now, if I can just find someone who owns one of those lime green cars…