Implicit bias is a term that appears to be quite innocent, but the truth is, it is very dangerous. The definition of implicit bias is that it is attitudes and stereotypes that we unconsciously hold that cause us to behave in certain ways. When we are asked about our racist or sexist actions, related to these attitudes and stereotypes that we hold, we object, explaining that we stand for equality and fairness in all of our actions.
However, once we understand clearly what implicit bias is, we will better understand why on the one side, there may be some people accusing others of racism, while on the other side, there may be others defending themselves that they did not do anything racist, nor did they intend to do so. The reason is implicit bias, where one group uses stereotypes in dealing with the other group, and where the consequences are being felt by those who are being stereotyped. The other group, unconscious of the stereotypes that are built into their assumptions about the other group, may feel that they are behaving appropriately.
Examples of this are very commonplace in our society, particularly for the people who are on the receiving end of this stereotypical behaviour. Think about Blacks who are constantly being followed around in stores because of the stereotypes of Blacks as given to stealing. Think of the Black woman who may have her bags searched in a department store, for fear that she may have shoplifted something. Think of the White police officer who when interacting with a Black youth with a hoodie on may be thinking that he may have a gun and not his cell phone in his pocket. Think of the Middle Eastern young man who is made painfully aware that he is being carefully watched as he enters a cafeteria or other place of business, or of the veiled woman who is being stared at as she pushes her baby stroller into a supermarket.
All of this is based on implicit bias that has so pervaded our everyday thinking that we are not aware that this bias is showing through as we interrelate with other groups. Implicit bias shows up as racism, sexism, and intolerance to difference. In a society where we speak about equality, acceptance, fairness and democracy, implicit bias has no place. It has to go.
It is because we recognize how unacceptable racism is that when we are accused of it, we try to deny it. We say we do not have a racist bone in our bodies, and that it is never our intention to treat anyone unfairly.
Yet every day in North America, Blacks, Hispanics, Native peoples, Muslims, people of different ethnicities, people belonging to the LGBTQ+ communities, and people with different disabilities, are systematically excluded on the basis of their difference. We generally do not see ourselves as being responsible for excluding many people by accepting the stereotypes that are so deeply engrained in our society.
Then there are those who are explicitly racist in their words, actions, sentiments and behaviour, who are conscious of the stereotypes that they continue to promote and the consequences of their actions, but who still declare that they are not racist. To be identified as a racist is frowned upon by the majority, and this explains why many racists deny that they fall into this category.
As some researchers explain, in dealing with racist behaviour, we need to separate out the people from their actions. It is their behaviour that is racist and not the people. When we call someone a racist, we establish their character as unchangeable. However, when we identify their actions as racist, there is an opportunity that those individuals could change their behaviour.
Implicit bias is not acceptable under any circumstances, and surely racism is taboo. As responsible citizens of democratic societies, we have to uproot implicit bias, whenever we become conscious of it, wherever we may find it. This will involve eliminating stereotypes wherever we see them, and seeing each other as human beings all trying to live the best lives we can.