If You have a Brain, You’re Biased – It’s a thing… a real thing. Let’s not pretend that any human being walking around is bias-free. That is like looking for a unicorn. You are not a unicorn; you are a human being full to brimming with often unconscious biases. And the time to challenge our biases has shown up for all of us. The danger is not that you have biases, that is just a big whatever. Instead, the threat is in your unconscious and unexamined biases. Those ideas, beliefs, and stereotypes that color your vision to how your ideas, belief, and stereotypes impact real individuals.
The Roots of Racism Live in Unchallenged Biases.
In-Group bias is at the root of racism. Which is very clearly still happening in systematic ways. And, is showing up all over right now. Seeing another human being as “other” and not part of your tribe is at the center of this epidemic of racism. I can’t say this enough, there is ONE RACE. There are many cultures, but one human race. Below the superficial differences indicated by genetic variations of hair, eye, and skin color, we are all human beings.
Religious differences, cultural norms, these things do not make different races. Yes, we celebrate different holidays, we pray in different ways, we look different, and we need to honor these differences, but they do not make us different races. Whatever human face you are looking at, they feel pain, they suffer, they want the best for their children, they want a safe home, clean food, clean air, and opportunities to have a full life… just like you.
7 Steps to Challenging Your Biases
1/ No Denials
Admit that regardless of how nice you are, you have biases. We all do, and “all” includes you too. Start with owning this part of who you are. It takes courage, but it’s the necessary first step.
2/ Get curious
At Harvard University they have been running Project Implicit since 1998. I first ran into it in 2004, when I took my first test. It was a real eye-opener to see where my biases showed up. The awareness that came from navigating through the Project Implicit Test gave me places to begin exploring and increasing my awareness. Take the time to see where your implicit biases are and then take your self-awareness and reflect on what you need to challenge in yourself.
3/ Acknowledge Unearned Privilege
This is a hard one because very few of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouth. Yet, there are so many things that each of us takes for granted. I have many LGBTQ friends who do not get the same privilege that I do in their marriages. I can easily take my husband’s hand and give him a kiss in public, without a single thought to who is around us. I can do this in a restaurant, in Lowes, ANYWHERE, and not one thought about our safety.
Maybe you can jog anywhere in your neighborhood and never think, “I need to be careful because strangers might shoot me.” I can’t promise you, but my guess is, I won’t be shot for jogging in my neighborhood. Consider how many young African American men have lost their lives for jogging, or being in the park, or walking through their neighborhood. That some can do this safely is an example of privilege.
It’s time for us to recognize that privilege exists. White privilege is real. That doesn’t mean that you haven’t worked your butt off for what you have, I got my first job at 12, I get it. What is does mean is that if you are white, or straight, or Christian, or all three, you have gotten a lot of unearned benefit from that trifecta. Brene Brown shares her perspective in this unflinching look at this topic. I hope you will watch her.
4/ Check Your Defensiveness
No one can change, when their brain is reacting in fear. Defensiveness is an indicator of fear. Breathe through your defensiveness and know that there is transformational work on the other side of your fear. It’s messy and uncomfortable. But, remember, you are in good company, as all human beings have biases. The important thing is that you are being courageous and taking steps to challenge yourself and your thinking.
5/ Challenge your Biases
Work on first self-awareness and then challenge yourself to practice self-reflection. How would you feel if you were judged solely on the color of your skin? Or your sexual orientation? Or your spiritual beliefs? Regardless of your experience, how do you like it when people don’t want you based on an unchangeable part of who you are?
Make a commitment to be aware and then work to unlearn your dangerous biases. If you have biases about people of different cultures or colors, address those. Just because you had a bad experience with someone from a different culture or who was a different color, doesn’t give you the right to make broad and sweeping generalizations. It doesn’t provide any of us the right to treat others in ways that we would not also wish to be treated.
6/ Participate in the Conversation
Participate in dialogue but start with keeping your mouth shut. Listen with open ears. Listen to understand. Listen to the stories of people who have been harmed by an unfair bias. Hear what they have to say, how they feel, and begin to develop empathy for their experience. Some of your experiences might link up with another person, still, don’t assume that your life experience is representative of anyone else’s. Recognize you may have had opportunities because of your color, or your attractiveness, or your economic status, that has not been afforded to others. You may have been born into the right family at the right time. You were lucky. Imagine if you had been born into the opposite experience, what would you want for yourself then?
Allow that marginalized people may not want to talk to you because they have been saying these things for hundreds of years. We first need to hear the anger, acknowledge and respect it, before we build up the trust to have a conversation.
7/ Let Your Assumptions Go
Slow your roll on assumptions and ask questions instead. Begin to build relationships across the differences. What you think is most often based on your assumptions. Get more data before you assume that your thoughts are true or shared. When you point out and focus on superficial differences, remember you have 4 fingers pointing back at you… And, yes, I do too.
Get Messy and Challenge Your Biases
The work of becoming better human beings is the most essential endeavor you can undertake. Turning the focus from other people’s behaviors and shining that light on yourself is hard and takes extraordinary courage. The time is here to show up and be a hero for yourself and encourage yourself to evolve. You will benefit, others will benefit, and you can impact the whole world in better ways.
Self-awareness and personal responsibility are the hallmarks of a healthy human being. And, this is available to all of us who choose to do the work. You got this.
Lyssa deHart, LICSW, MCC is a Leadership Confidence and Whole Life Coach, and the author of StoryJacking: Change Your Inner Dialogue, Transform Your Life. Lyssa works with confidence challenged high achievers who are ready to rewrite the internal narratives that slow them down. Her clients include executives, senior leadership, and managers at organizations such as Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft, the US Military, as well as with creative writers, actors, and artists.
What fires her up is working with smart people to trust their brilliance and develop the courage and confidence to believe in themselves and the work that is their purpose. If you are interested in meeting to see if you could benefit from working together, let's have a coffee and a chat.
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article originally posted on Dec 2, 2019. Updated April 23, 2023.