Talk About Bias

Most of us have trouble seeing our own biases because we think of them as “what’s normal” instead of “my unique way of seeing the world based on my identity and where/how I grew up.” All of us have biases about race, gender, class, sexuality, ability and religion - and it’s very difficult to have a productive conversation about any of those things unless we understand that our biases are not reality or default. Understanding that your bias is a bias is like taking out colored contacts you’ve been wearing since birth and seeing that the way you saw the world was not, in fact, the way all people see it. So how can you get yourself or someone else to recognize their biases? We suggest a few ways:

  1. Take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test together. Talk about your results, and what you think of the test in general.

  2. Watch a video that breaks down the concept of bias. Writer Chimimanda Adichie has an excellent TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” in which she frames bias and stereotype as only having one story about a person or group of people. Her anecdotes and examples paint a very clear picture of how the stories we are told influence how we think about people.

  3. There are also some great, short essays available online which can reveal what bias is for a person who might not be able to fully understand the concept. Having someone read these is a great conversation starter.

First, Slate has an excellent series called “If It Happened There,” which has articles written about American current events but written in the journalistic style usually reserved for covering events in other countries. The result is a revelation not only of how we tend to view other countries through a biased lens, but also of how things in our country look to outsiders - not nearly as “normal” as we perceive them. The article about the trial of the policeman who killed Eric Garner is particularly strong. This would be a good conversation starter article to send to someone with just a “Wow, this is interesting - what do you think?”

Lastly, there are two anthropological texts which create the same jarring shift in self-understanding by recasting American “normal culture” as foreign and strange -  The Sacred Rac and Body Ritual among the Nacirema. In middle school and high school classrooms, these articles are commonly used starting points for a conversation about bias. The texts are all the more powerful if the reader remains in the dark about what culture is being described until after reading. However, they're still worth showing to someone who is very stuck in certain mindset even if you explain them in advance. The takeaway: your "normal" isn't everyone's normal.

After doing any or all of these things, it should be much easier to talk about bias objectively. Once you realize you have biases, you can start to see all biases better and talk about them.

Jennifer Hare