Having Bias Isn’t Good or Bad — It’s Human

Let’s Talk About Your Childhood.

A colleague might disregard your advice in a meeting and suddenly, you’re a child and the adults are shooing you away because they feel that kids should be seen and not heard. Your boss might nitpick a mistake and suddenly, you’re 10 years old feeling unfairly punished by a parent or teacher who knows you can’t fight back. When you’re a kid, you might not have much power to speak up for yourself and there’s an almost universal experience of feeling that sting of childhood helplessness and thinking, “when I’m a grown up I’m never going to treat kids like this.”

Intuitively, we know our identities impact how others perceive us. And as kids we can look forward to the day when we’ll grow into an identity that holds more social power and commands greater respect. But we all occupy many identities – and there are some identities that don’t change.

There is no growing out of being Asian, Black, Brown or Indigenous and our society often keeps members of minoritized racial groups in a state of perpetual infantilization; continuing to downplay their perspectives, dismiss their thoughts and deny their autonomy well into adulthood. It’s quite common for members of racialized groups to talk about experiencing subtle comments or actions that reveal that those around them view them as less than – we call these micro-inequities.

For kids, we understand that they’re still growing and learning so sometimes adults need to take control in order to act in a child’s best interests. But when members of minoritized racial groups are being treated unfairly, these actions often indicate that those around them have internalized and are playing out historically harmful stereotypes and inaccurate biases about racialized groups.

Yes, You Have Bias. No, You are Not Evil.

Our brains naturally do a miraculous job of helping us move through the world by quickly processing information to make sense of our surroundings, remember subtle details and identify helpful patterns. But that means that sometimes in our minds, someone’s identity speaks before they do.

We might think of racism as an intentionally malicious act against another person — but it’s not always that simple. When we grow up in societies where we’re taught harmful stereotypes about people based on racial identity, we internalize these stories. Then when our brain kicks in to “help” us create biases based on those stories, we unconsciously begin to perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

All humans have implicit bias and most of us are unaware of those biases until they come out in micro-behaviours that are noticeable to other people. But this does not automatically make us bad – it makes us human.

When someone points out that we have said or done something that was harmful to them or their social group, take time to notice how it makes you feel. When we want to do good and are told we’ve done something wrong, it’s common to react from a place of shame, guilt or defensiveness.

When We Know Better We Do Better.

It’s helpful to remember that when someone trusts you to get vulnerable and say, “Hey, what you said really hurt me,” they are usually coming from a place where they see that you are trying. They likely believe in your capacity for change and want to help you understand them so you can both be in better relationship.

Truly being inclusive requires us to be more aware of the experiences of other people. And sometimes stepping into that awareness involves getting a little uncomfortable as we wade through the emotions that come from our own conscious and unconscious ideas around race, identity and power.

Remember that equity work is not about identifying who is good or bad. It’s about looking at the world and identifying who is and who isn’t being considered – then doing our best to meet people with care and compassion as we create environments where everyone matters and belongs.

Now What?

Remember that forming biases is a natural part of the human experience. And although it can be hard to hear that we’ve said or done something that’s harmed a member of a racialized group, this is not always an immediate judgment of our character: it’s an assessment of the biases we’re carrying.

We can all work on the skills of being able to catch ourselves, step into courageous conversations and do the work required to develop our equity literacy to promote a truly equitable workplace environment.

Not sure where to start? For more on how you can transform your workplace without shame or blame, join our Deep Diversity Summer Institute.

Anima Leadership

Anima Leadership believes in a compassionate approach to racial justice where everyone can feel like they matter and belong.

Since 2007, we have worked with thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations teaching, consulting and coaching transformative change. Our award-winning training programs and innovative measurement tools will help us journey with you from diversity basics to advanced belonging.

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