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Born Into It

Today I’m going to talk about implicit bias.  First, a definition:

“Thoughts and feelings are ‘implicit’ if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature.  We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people.  Thus, we use the term ‘implicit bias’ to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge.  A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it.” 1

Implicit bias is something all white people are born into, a feeling of white superiority no matter your economic or social status.  We are born into families where we learn the biases of our parents, and the bias that so many of us learned is to believe that white is better than black (just in terms of color) and then the corollary, that white people are better than black people.  It’s in our socialized DNA, we can’t escape it.  But we are responsible for the role we play in perpetuating it.

This implicit bias plays a part in daily thoughts and decisions we make, which can be life-giving or life endangering for Blacks.  For example, a White doctor who feels black patients are more non-compliant or cooperative than white patients may refrain from referring a Black patient to a specialist for a health problem.  The doctor doesn’t actively or consciously refuse to do so, it just comes “naturally” if you will.  Unconscious thoughts that have a direct effect on the life, or death, of another person.

How do we gain the upper hand in recognizing and disassembling implicit bias?  Robin DiAngelo in White Fragility says we must be “less white.”  “To be less white is to be open to, interested in, and compassionate toward the racial realities of people of color.  To be less white is to break with white silence and solidarity, to stop privileging the comfort of white people over the pain of racism for people of color, to move past guilt and into action.” 2

“Action,” the key term in DiAngelo’s words.  We White privileged people must not stand silently by while racist talk or behavior is before us.  DiAngelo writes, “Interrupting racism takes courage and intentionality; the interruption is by definition not passive or complacent.” 3

If we were born into implicit bias, we didn’t choose for it to be our socialization method, how do we escape it?  DiAngelo says “…we must never consider ourselves finished with our learning.” 4 Jesus said the same thing:  that we will need healed over and over again of our blindness and deafness, that we will be judged by how we treat the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, and that we are to see each other as God sees us:  beloved images of the Divine deserving of dignity.  Implicit bias is the direct opposite of this kind of alertness and need for conversion.  We must constantly be on guard for our own racist thoughts.  It’s the never-ending story of conversion, and we are living it.

So let us pray.

Gracious God, grant us Jesus’ courage that we might see one another as You see us:  living images of your Divine presence.  May we then have the courage to speak, act and advocate for systems that make this a reality for our Black brothers and sisters, too long denied this dignity.   We ask this through Christ, the Lord, coming again in majesty…coming today in the mystery of this Love.

Amen.

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1 Implicit Bias Explained – Perception Institute
2 DiAngelo, Robin.  White Fragility, Chapter 12
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.

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