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Layer Upon Layer: Uncovering Bias

“Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”  Ibram X. Kendi

Since I began intentionally to learn about racism five years ago, I’ve read probably 100 books about it, attended dozens of workshops, viewed countless videos, scoured innumerable articles, engaged in hundreds of conversations with Black leaders and community members.  And the more I know, the less I know I know.  The more bias I uncover, the more surfaces.  I keep hearing that the work never ends, and I see no end in sight.  Simply put, the messages and images absorbed in my lifetime retain a tenacious hold in the depths of my cranial circuitry.

AI and math concept

One might ask, “So what?”  The issue for us white folks is this:  to the extent that we don’t smoke out these biases, they are bound to infect whatever actions we might take; or perhaps worse yet, they may continue to reinforce our inaction.

My current read is a recent release:  Biased:  Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice that Shapes What We See, Think and Do by Dr. Jennifer L. Everhardt.  She is a world-renowned expert on implicit bias, and for the past 15 years has worked extensively with law enforcement agencies and corporations to bring this implicit bias to consciousness.  She brings readers from the grim discovery of one’s covert preconceptions to some methods of checking these at the door of decision-making.

Her writing has reinforced what I’ve been learning:  I am no longer surprised when my mind discharges an uninvited, unwanted image or word or judgment.  A few recent examples:

  • I was reading an article that had caught my eye. I noticed that the author was a Black woman whose college education was at an HBCU (historically Black college or university).  The instant I read that, even before I could think it, the word “inferior” coughed up in my mind.  Not just this college; all HBCU’s.
  • Recently in Rochester, two Black leaders have been indicted on charges that they defrauded a local not-for-profit. When I read updates about this, my mind says to me, “See?”  See what?  I know what: “Criminals!”  Not just these two, but Black people.
  • I met with a budding Black entrepreneur recently. When I tried to contact him by phone again, his voice mail told me that his inbox was full.  Immediately, again, “See?”  See what?  I knew what: “Unreliable!”  Not just him; Black people.
  • In my last blog post I offered you two videos of Black men describing their experiences in very differing styles, one by a professional-appearing man and laced with humor; the other by a well-known rapper, blunt and unapologetic. I invited you to note the differences in your own response to each.  That idea came from noting my own knee-jerk reaction to the rapper’s persona: “Angry Black man.”  Not just him; Black men.

These examples also make clear another aspect of implicit bias:  if I meet a white person who attended a college that my circuitry registers as “inferior,” I might still reduce my assessment of that particular person – but the judgment doesn’t extend to all white people.  We white people tend to see each other as individuals, but when we see a Black person, we see an entire race.

The work of recognizing these automatic, scripted and intractable judgments is truly never-ending, because I continue to swim in a societal soup that reinforces them.  For seventy-five years now, I’ve ingested the messages and images from relatives, from movies, ads, media outlets, and now from a president who expertly stirs that poisoned soup in my mind.

Dr. Ebehardt assures me that a cure is not possible despite all good intention. My dear friend Pat Mannix has been studying racism intently for the last 13 years including devouring over 350 books and working to eradicate racism especially though educating white people. She’ll be the first to tell you that she constantly discovers new layers, nuances, and manifestations of hard-wired racism, in herself and in our systems .

And so the challenge/invitation to you:  recognize that your mind too is impacted with racial bias, simply because you continue to swim in this soup as well.  This is not for the purpose of self-flagellation, but to clear the way for a more honest, open engagement with Black people and with the racism in which we are complicit.  This recognition can quiet the static that pollutes our attempts at genuine relationships and constructive action.

Try this exercise:

For the next week:

  • Catch the unfiltered reactions that are sparked whenever you encounter a Black person.
  • Or when you catch an image on TV, or read a news account.
  • Name the reactions, without dressing or disguising them.
  • Practice the intentional choice to set them aside.

Then continue to do that – for the rest of your life!

 

Resources:

“The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy”  by Yawo Brown;  an article to help uncover implicit bias.

“Being Nice is Not Going To End Racism”  9-min. Youtube video by Dr. Robin DiAngelo.

White Lies:  Race and the Myths of Whiteness by Maurice Berger; examines how the paradigm of racism limits personal thought and freedom.

How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi; includes extremely cogent definitions and explanations of many of the concepts related to racism.

 

Action:

Book Discussion on How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram Kendi  Thursday Nov. 14, 7 – 8:30 pm.  Pittsford Library.  Details here.

November 15-16:  White Privilege Symposium at East High School.  Details here.

Upcoming workshops – See details at:  National Coalition Building Institute.

  • Tuesday November 19, 9:00am – Noon:  Controversial Issues
  • Friday December 6, 9:00am – 4:00pm:  Welcoming Diversity

On Monday November 18, Ibram X. Kendi, author of the best-seller Stamped from the Beginning:  The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America will present on his new book:  How to be an Antiracist.  Details here.

On Thursday November 21:  “Why Do We Hate:  A Community Conversation”  Sponsored by the Levine Center to End Hate.  Lyric Theatre.  Details here.

Racial Equity Advocacy Leadership (REAL) Team meeting, Monday November 25, 6:00 – 8:00. Open to the public. Rochester City School District, 131 W. Broad St.. Call me if you are interested in attending – 585-734-2960.

Check out the array of events including workshops offered by 540westmain.org

12 thoughts on “Layer Upon Layer: Uncovering Bias”

  1. ” My mind was poisoned” Frank Staropoli 2019
    Your quote struck me a few weeks back, Frank. The same can be said of so many of us and now we need to spend the rest of our lives ridding our minds of that poison. We can do that by following many of your suggestions and those of others in this space as well.

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  2. WHAT??? The exact opposite is what’s needed most: DEADLY-SERIOUS, FOCUSED (WITH LASER-LIKE PRECISION) COLLECTIVE RESPONSE — PERIOD.

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  3. There’s only one question left (FOR ALL OF US) — it’s the same one that Jim Brown kept asking the Late Richard Pryor — when the latter was going through his struggle with drug addiction. ALL ELSE IS MERELY SUPER-HYPER-RHETORIC AND NOISE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZS95ZWq1Ais&fbclid=IwAR1BxQCXsL1s4MXI3bAgn0EHvPi9AU-woZSxA9FfQKZlm9WYhv6r-oFOje8 

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