The United States (and much of the world) is engaged in a profound re-examination of race, racism and the systemic bias that has largely been deemed “not a big deal” by many white people and experienced as trauma and violence by persons of color. Key to these issues is implicit bias – the hidden attitudes and associations that can impact behavior without our conscious awareness. Jennifer Eberhardt, author of “Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do,” says that implicit biases arise out of the brain’s need to make sense of the world. “The brain needs to sort everything—the food we eat, the furniture we use, whatever. We also sort people. That sorting can lead to bias; once we have categories, we have beliefs and feelings about what’s in those categories.”
Many people wonder, “If I have these implicit biases, can I get rid of them?”
The bad news is that simply becoming aware of your implicit biases does not eliminate them. Eberhardt suggests slowing down your thinking and action. Implicit biases operate most often when people are making quick decisions and taking action in an instant.
Psychologist Anthony Greenwald, in an interview originally published in Knowable Magazine, favors discretion elimination. This means setting up procedures to ensure that objective criteria are used instead of subjective judgment. For example, discretion elimination in recruitment involves not identifying anything about the candidates that could trigger bias (gender, race, etc.) when screening potential new hires.
“We’re living in a society where we’re absorbing images and ideas all the time and it takes over who we are and how we see the world,” says Eberhardt. Though it can be frustrating to admit this reality, it is vital that each of us understand the biases our brains hold and work to eliminate them or avoid their impact on others.
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