I recently participated in a small group discussion at the Dominican Sisters Conference Convocation focused on the topic of racism. The conversation began with the question “Have you ever felt rejected as a person of color?” The conversation continued with several women giving examples of experiences when they either felt inferior or superior in a situation. It was a frank discussion on how people with different racial identities interact with each other and bring to the situation a socialized or learned attitude or behavior.
As I listened to the testimonies, I was reminded of a series of lectures I had attended earlier this summer at the House of the Lord in Akron, OH. The theme of the Akron program was “How to Stay Alive in an Unconsciously Racial Society.” It was then that I learned about “implicit bias,” which are thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. Research at Harvard University demonstrates that “there are attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report.” The Implicit Bias Association Test (click here) supports with research study data the premise that all people act on biases and stereotypes all the time without conscious recognition of that fact. One example is the belief that it is possible you would associate a strong math skill-set with men over women. Without even knowing it, you may have “an implicit math-men stereotype.” A more serious example is the role of implicit bias in the discriminatory treatment of young black males in our society or the unconscious belief in white superiority.
Personal contact, education and self-monitoring are ways that individuals can act differently and change “blind spot” unconscious behavior. Dominican women have forged pathways for current corporate stances which search for solutions to just immigration reform, abolishing human trafficking, sensible gun control and global collaboration on climate change and critical environmental issues. Intertwined with these social justice issues, it is evident that the issue of racism requires all of us to speak with a clear voice as well. Thinking about what implicit bias is and in what ways we have it, is the first approach to changing our perceptions, judgments and actions.