“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead I do what I hate.” – Romans 7:15
With this quote from St. Paul, Bishop F. Josephus Johnson began the program “How to Stay Alive in an Unconsciously Racial Society” at the House of the Lord in Akron, OH. Dominican Sisters of Peace Cathy Arnold, OP and Barbara Catalano, OP; and Associate Colette Parker, OPA, and I had attended the program which was designed for the local community to examine “implicit bias.” That is a concept substantiated by research which describes that a person’s unconscious thoughts and feelings lead to perception, judgment and actions.
One image articulated by Sr. Barbara was that “we all live in our own bubbles” and we are not always aware that what we unconsciously think affects others. Rev. Johnson described the reality that racism and other stereotypes exist both consciously and unconsciously and that it is so easy to live these biases daily. We can be unaware that many times we live without a thoughtful awareness of the very real impact of racial bias. Bishop Johnson has studied the Implicit Association Test research (www.implicit.harvard.edu) and concludes that all people use biases and stereotypes all the time. But he urged the audience to know that we don’t have to be “stuck” with bias. Personal contact, education, fostering egalitarian thoughts and self-monitoring are ways that individuals can act differently and change “blind spot” unconscious behavior.
St. Paul did not do the research on implicit bias, but he did know that although we want to do what is right, we don’t always. The racial tensions of these days demand that we as Dominicans of Peace study hard to understand the difficult realities that lead to police shootings and subsequent community and national unrest and demands for change. We must reflect on the fact that inaction as individuals and as a community of peace may contribute to perpetuating our separate bubbles. We must determine ways to interact with others, discover and address our implicit biases, and continue to preach peace, build peace and be peace in our presence and actions.