“We’re all biased, but the consequences of our bias depends on the role we play in society,” said Westmont College associate professor Carmel Saad, quoting Bryan T. Marks of Morehouse College, in a lecture at the University Club on Thursday. “What role do you play?”
Unconscious biases frequently wedge themselves into people’s behavior, Saad explained, affecting their work and relationships. But there are ways to override these hidden prejudices. Saad discussed the prevalence of implicit bias and how individuals are exposed to such ideas from early childhood. Even though data shows a rising trend in more Americans explicitly embracing egalitarian ideals, disparities among different racial groups still persist.
For example, research in the law enforcement sector found that probation officers explain delinquency in black youths differently from those in white youths, Saad said. If it’s a black youth, officers attribute the behavior to the individual’s core personality trait. If it’s a white youth, officers say their surrounding social environment influenced their behavior.
These results mean there is a strong association between African Americans and criminality, Saad said. “We all have these tendencies because we all grew up in a society that gave us messages that associate certain groups with certain traits,” she noted. “And so this is more about raising awareness about the messages that are already present in society.”
According to Saad, people’s brains have limited amounts of energy, so stereotypes are shortcuts the brain uses to focus before moving on. Individuals unintentionally absorb stereotypes before they develop values related to race and gender because the brain makes these associations for them.
The problem with unconscious biases is that people often don’t know what they are and how they can affect behavior outside of conscious control. Saad tackles these issues in her workshops by raising awareness about these hidden prejudices and offering strategies to overcome them.
So what can individuals do to address these biases? Saad outlined several strategies, including increasing opportunities for contact with diverse communities and viewing media that portrays minorities in non-stereotyped ways. Imagining what it’s like to live life prejudged as lazy or violent on the basis of race can also help individuals emotionally connect with people.
“We are all exposed to these ideas and they are oftentimes very different from what we desire,” Saad said. “They can be a bad habit … and just like any bad habit, awareness and practice can help us overcome it.”