Change comes from discomfort
The national conversation has shifted from CoVid19 to graphic, brutal racism. The protests on the streets have flowed into every post whether you meant it to be about George Floyd or police behavior or not. Many folks are resisting this and insist on saying “All Lives Matter” or “We support our Police” and do not understand why these sentiments are offensive and they long for the days where people just got along. Many people wish people would stop calling them racists or Karens and just “bring it down a notch”.
This article is not about that. I am here to discuss your heuristic availability and implicit bias. What is that? Simple. When you were growing up, you were a little sponge that heard everything and tucked it away to save it for later. If you heard things like, “she is so pretty, she’ll have the boys lining up” you took that information and stored it in your mental filing cabinet. Ultimately, the words and actions we grew up with are deeply socked away in our minds and when those words are mentioned, your brain lights up and says, “I know this one!” Like, if someone says, “she is so pretty”, your heuristic availability screams out “she’ll have the boys lining up!”.
Implicit bias works in a similar fashion but is also deeply rooted in evolutionary, social behavior. Our brain categorizes and labels things as similar, different, tall, short, big, small…This works with people, too. They are like me or they are not like me. We use stereotypes like “All boys are smelly” or “Boys are tough, and girls are pretty” “Pink is for girls and blue is for boys”. These designations create deep rooted implicit biases. These biases are the reason why most folks automatically assume a doctor is a man and a teacher is a woman. These biases are what make up a good chunk of our heuristic availability. Automatic answers for issues. They also are so engrained in our psyches that we can’t just think them away. They are automatic and require us to be conscious of our thoughts and behaviors.
We are trained to see public servants as special- even as heroes. They are there to protect and serve us. They come to our schools when we are children and we learn to honor and revere them. Our little boys are encouraged to be police and fire fighters because they are the closest thing we have to super heroes. Our heuristic availability is primed to see the death of a police officer as an anathema to a safe society while death at the hands of a police officer is seen as something the victim asked for because they refused to comply and reluctantly understand.
Your implicit bias tells you that racists are easy to pick out of a crowd. They are flying the Confederate flag. They are wearing a white hood. They are sporting a swastika. Subtle, passive aggressive racism is much more insidious. Our implicit biases are there to make our lives easier and, in these cases, these biases are also there to protect you from feeling icky about yourself. The biases tell you that you cannot be racist because you are not a Nazi or Confederate Flag waver. They tell you that you love everyone, and you don’t see color but refuse to allow you to accept “Black Lives Matter” because “All Lives Matter”.
Change comes from discomfort and whether you acknowledge your implicit biases or not, they are there. We all have them. It is your responsibility to look at those biases and be honest about them. Pretending there is no racism and no difference between people will not make this go away. That is like pretending the infection will clear up on its own if you leave it alone. This infection needs to be examined, diagnosed, treated and if severe, excised or amputated.
Do you feel bad? Are you feeling like maybe you may have some biases that are holding you back or that need to be examined? If the answer is “no”, then read this again. The only way to de-bias you is to become a biases warrior. Roles, stereotypes and all the heuristics we use to categorize people need to change. Accept that you have these and stop talking- listen. If you are interested in examining your biases, you can begin with Project Implicit (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ ). Examine your implicit biases and see where you stand. Even the most woke individuals will be surprised at their results.
This is a process. This is not where we sit here in a circle and Kumbaya this racism away. It takes work. It is time to get uncomfortable.