Opinion: On implicit bias

Bobbie Szabo

Bobbie Szabo

Implicit bias is real. We all have it.

Implicit bias does not make you a bad person. Many conservative politicians believe discussing implicit bias is a way for liberals to point fingers and blame white people for racism. They believe a hyperbolic fallacy.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, said in the vice presidential debate: “When (Clinton) was asked in the debate a week ago if there was implicit bias in law enforcement, her only answer was that there’s implicit bias in everyone in the United States. I just think what we ought to do is, we ought to stop seizing on these moments of tragedy.”

Pence incorrectly equates racism and implicit bias; he incorrectly assumes having implicit biases means someone can pass a moral judgement on you, and thus shows he has very little clue what implicit bias actually is.

According to the Kirwan Institute at The Ohio State University, implicit bias “refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”

The key word in the definition is “unconscious.” We cannot control implicit bias. Thus, we cannot be labeled poorly or positively based on how our biases function. In actuality, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was completely correct when she stated we all have implicit biases.

The aim now is to make sure we are aware of them. As soon as we are aware of them, we can begin to combat them. We can attempt to change the way we think. Not all implicit biases can be solved, and not all of them can disappear or even shrink in size. But we certainly can and should try to decrease them. If not for ourselves, we should try for those our behavior affects.

Take, for instance, the implicit bias in law enforcement against people of color (which multiple studies have shown to be true.) These police officers are not bad people; most of the time, they are not purposefully seeking out black people to kill. But most of the time, police are just slightly more inclined to believe a member of a marginalized community has committed a crime than a white person.

This personal, unconscious bias stems from a larger cultural belief or feeling. A high proportion of criminals on television are people of color. A high proportion of people in jail are people of color. As human beings, we notice these details and absorb them. We grow up knowing certain things to be true, and they ingrain themselves within us and manifest as implicit bias.

Implicit bias does not apply only to racial inequality, but also to gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class and almost every other inequality present in our society. While we do not necessarily try to discriminate against others, it still happens.

The only way to fix these problems is to acknowledge their existence and very deliberately try to reverse them. Although implicit bias is unconscious, we must consciously try to nullify their effects.

Bobbie Szabo is a columnist, contact her at [email protected]