Life + Culture

Implicit Bias vs Explicit Bias

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Deciderata Explains Implicit Bias

For most of U.S. history, racism has been overtly on display and at a conscious level. Signs designated separate seating. Slurs were common designators. Racially-targeted violence went unchallenged. Laws unabashedly identified people of color as less than human.

After the Civil Rights Movement, the explicit bias of previous eras largely gave way to the more subtle, but still pernicious, era of 'colorblind racism'. With its being no longer socially acceptable to display blatant bigotry, racism had to evolve, surviving and thriving amidst a strategy of ignoring race all together. It was this colorblind era that gave us mass incarcerationstop-and-friskthe school-to-prison pipelinechildren at our borderdetention centers, and racist mascots.

These systems emerged and expanded largely due to implicit bias.  Implicit biases are the "judgments and/or behaviors that often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control." We all have them, and they develop out of our brain's beneficial ability to identify patterns. But it goes awry when we inappropriately affix significance to social identities resulting in adverse outcomes for others.

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It affects us all

Racial implicit bias manifests itself in everything from assumptions about sports prowess, to who we hire/fire, to who we are afraid of as we walk down the street. To combat our implicit biases, we must first become aware of their existence (try an IAT test!), so that we can consciously combat their effects on our thought processes and actions. Implicit bias can’t be fixed with colorblindness, in fact colorblindness makes it worse.

While overt racism never really went away, over the years implicit bias was allowed to take root and fester, unexamined and unchecked. The result has been decades of accumulated disparity, often perpetuated by unwitting 'basically good' people. Resumes were overlooked, mortgages and leases were declined, school applications were denied--indeed innocent people were shot. All because largely well-meaning people, acted on their implicit biases, often without even realizing they are contributing to systemic racism in our society.

Image result for moving sidewalk racismWe each have the opportunity to confront our own biases and begin to combat their effects on our lives adn the lives around us. Dr. Beverly Tatum describes racism as a moving sidewalk in society--even if we are standing still we are still moving with the system and allowing racism to persist. Changing the situation requires actively turning around, indeed repenting, and walking against the way things are currently set up. Let us each identify and walk against the many moving sidewalks on which we find ourselves.

Most recently, explicit bias has made comeback. We've observed a resurgence in overt fear and hate in ways we largely haven't seen since the Civil Rights Movement. If we’re not careful, this dynamic will lower the bar for racial progress, and allow well-meaning individuals to rest in the comfort of knowing that at least we’re not like those ‘bad apples.’ But let us not be lured into thinking explicit racism is its only form. Instead, we must continue to uncover and counteract our own implicit biases, understanding the profound role they play in perpetuating systemic injustice around us.

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