By - Sandi Webster

Uncovering Unconscious bias

What exactly is unconscious bias? We all have a different understanding of bias, so the definition becomes more confusing when adding “unconscious” to it.

  • Unconscious means the part of the mind which is inaccessible to the conscious mind but which affects behavior and emotions
  • Bias means to cause to feel or show inclination or prejudice for or against someone or something

Unconscious bias (or implicit bias) is often defined as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is considered unfair. As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit, and other people are penalized.  Basically, we are making decisions or passing judgment in a particular manner because we have been engrained to do so without thinking. We have been acculturated in these habits regardless of correctness.

An excellent book that explains this concept is “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think and Do” by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Ph.D.  One example of bias in the book was a facial recognition experiment. The experiment demonstrates that it is universally proven that we recognize faces of our own race over recognizing the faces of other races. When white people say “they all look alike” regarding Black or Asian people, that saying is derived from the facial recognition phenomenon – literally, they cannot recognize someone from another race.

There is unconscious bias in everything we do. Dehumanizing people makes them inferior. It is especially visible in gender, race, and ethnicity.

  • The world sees Caucasian characteristics like a straight nose or straight hair as superior and coveted. At the same time, people of color get taunted and told they are ugly based on their natural physical and biological characteristics, such as thick, curly hair or a wide nose.
  • Black people are deemed inferior by white people based on the color of their skin. I’ve heard, “they are all dirty criminals” when discussing black people. Dehumanization seeps intra-race so that Black people started to judge themselves as to how light or brown they are compared to white. The “brown paper bag” test is conducted to see if someone is browner than a paper bag – the lighter, the “better.”

I cannot understand how a black-haired Adolph Hitler told the Germans that they were superior based on their Aryan features like blond hair and blue eyes, and they believed him. That bias was the start of World War II.

  • European ethnicity is favorable to African or Asian. Europeans are viewed as cultured and well-educated, while people of color, mainly Africans, are considered primitive and dumb.

Bias is a two-way street. We learn bias from birth – in our families, in our schools, in our daily lives. We internalize the things our families tell us and unconsciously utilize them when we need to make a judgment call. Black people have biases about others, too. For example, we’ve heard not to trust white people because they all hate black people…Asian people are all smart, especially in math!

We are never going to get rid of our unconscious biases.  Let’s become fully conscious of our biases, understand that we have them, and learn to move through this world with that understanding as well as understanding other people’s points of view.