Can we really be 100% objective? Those who study implicit bias argue that we cannot. For example, a recent study suggests that hurricanes with female names are deadlier than hurricanes with male names. Why? Due to implicit bias, a hurricane with a female name is seen as less powerful than a hurricane with a male name. Thus, those in the path of the hurricane do not prepare as well when the hurricane is named “Polly” instead of “Pablo.”
Implicit bias can be powerful because it is unconscious and un-examined. Hidden assumptions and evaluations can affect our behavior in powerful ways. Racial biases may be formed in children as young as three months old. A study from the Yale Child Study Center shows race-based discrimination in preschool teachers. In the study, teachers of preschoolers spent more time focused on their black, male students, expecting bad behavior.
Research also suggests that implicit biases can be countered and changed. Spending time with people of other groups can influence attitudes. Forming meaningful cross-cultural friendships can help us see others as unique individuals instead of stereotypes. Parents can teach and model for their children ways to combat bias.
Search “bias cleanse” online to find resources to begin to rid yourself of racial bias. Online tests and tools have their limits, but, they can be a helpful place to start. There are also a number of academic research centers that study implicit bias. The good news is that we are not necessarily captive to implicit bias. Awareness and education can go a long way toward improving attitudes, which can change behavior.
And, of course, there is the power of prayer. “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace,” begins the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
Want to learn more? Bring your lunch and join the conversation “Understanding Implicit Bias” with Rev. Chris Brady at Duke Divinity School on September 13th from 12:20-1:20 pm. The event is free and open to all.