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  • Jeenah Gwak

Confronting Implicit Racial Biases

Experience. Reflection. Perception. Predisposition. Bias.


These five words, put together, illustrate the process of bias formation. As humans, we build from our experiences that lead us to reflect upon the situation, which shapes our perception. At this point, we hold a predisposition to experiences similar to our own. We have now formed a bias, solely from our encounters and experiences.


I’ve had many interesting conversations about how biases shape our personal perceptions of society. One that especially stood out for me was a conversation about natural racism. We discussed the influences of the surrounding environment on our personal beliefs and experiences, as well as the nature of confronting biases. Why are individuals so unwilling to acknowledge their discriminatory beliefs? What shapes their perceptions of other races and cultures?


Implicit bias, according to the Perception Institute (https://perception.org/research/implicit-bias/), broadly describes attitudes towards people or a group of people, encompassing the association of stereotypes with them “without our conscious knowledge.” These attitudes or stereotypes are not limited by race nor gender; it proves to be a universal phenomenon across all cultures. Implicit racial biases, more specifically, often cause individuals to unknowingly act or think in a discriminatory manner. It would be inaccurate to describe implicit racial biased individuals as racist; rather, we can assume that experiences have shaped their perceptions and beliefs, resulting in biased thoughts or actions. The type of experiences, or even the lack of them, is certainly not the fault of the individual. We all grow up in different environments, and our unique experiences shape our beliefs.


An individual’s implicit racial bias towards a certain group stems largely from the environment that they grew up in. For example, a White woman who was raised in a rural, conservative town with a small Asian population (or no Asian population at all) likely had close to no encounters with a person of Asian descent. Therefore, when this woman, as an adult, goes to an urban city and encounters an Asian American, she considers this person of Asian descent to be out-of-place, or a “foreigner.” It seems only natural for her to do this, as she understands that Asians are a minority population. This applies for other races, as well. In a predominantly Asian city, an individual of Asian descent, along with the rest of the city, would alienate the minority White population. If an individual has never encountered a person of a different race, they likely don’t understand what oppression looks like or means – the basis of “inherent privilege.”


Inherent privileges can be described as built-in or engrained entitlement; regarding race, those with inherent privileges grew up in comfortable environments, often lacking diversity. In the previously mentioned situation, the White woman grew up in an environment that lacked racial and cultural diversity, and therefore, lacked exposure to racial and cultural oppression. Inherently privileged individuals can be described as privileged because they lacked exposure to the oppressive realities of society.


Often, those without personal experiences rely on outside sources, such as the media, to form their perspectives. Thus, it is not surprising that many of the stereotypes and biases that are present in society today are rooted in media portrayal of groups of people. Television shows and movies alike depict characters or roles to fit stereotypes that are most commonly known to the audience members, which, in turn, perpetuates these ideas for those without personal experiences. Over time, the constant reinforcement of particular characteristics and attributes to a specific race or culture allows for these ideas to be engraved into individuals’ minds.


It is almost natural for us, as humans, to form biases. As stated by Bailey Maryfield from the Justice Research and Statistics Association, no individual is “immune from having unconscious thoughts and associations.” However, acknowledging these implicit racial biases and actively spreading awareness seems to be a good place to start.


Author’s Note:

Please keep in mind that this is a complex topic. The idea itself, as well as the writing process for this blog, took months to develop. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, nor is there a right or wrong interpretation. This is just my take on it.


Resources:

Justice Research and Statistics Association: https://www.jrsa.org/pubs/factsheets/jrsa-factsheet-implicit-racial-bias.pdf

Perception Institute: https://perception.org/research/implicit-bias/

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