Our world is pretty messed up and trying to fix it on our own can feel hopeless. It’s easy to point to the systems of oppression, but we can’t do much to change them, at least not yet. What we can change is within ourselves – implicit bias.
Yeah this isn’t as sexy as changing our society, but it’s the first step towards that. I wish solutions could come from the top down, but that’s probably never going to happen because those in power will do just about anything to hold onto their power.
It may seem like we have no power, but we still have power in numbers and power over ourselves. We can decide that we want to change and it doesn’t matter what anyone else does, which is empowering. One small step for each of us could be a giant leap for mankind.
And if we try to hold others accountable while not holding ourselves accountable then we will fail in our goals. Too often when we aren’t responsible for our actions it seems like we are preaching from a soapbox. It’s important to be clear that we are all trying to get better together and no one will ever be perfect.
Everyone has some form of implicit bias. Does this mean we hate people who don’t look like us? No, we can still love everyone. It means that subconsciously – if we’re being charitable – we have biases against people who don’t look like us. As long as we acknowledge our bias and genuinely try to do better then we are on the path to improvement, which is much easier said than done.
One pitfall along the path to improvement includes thinking that we are now fixed, but the truth is we never will be. Until the day I die I will continue trying to get better and does that mean I won’t get caught up in the pitfalls? No, I am only human. But I will do my best to remind myself that no matter how much progress it seems like I am making I will never be done growing. And that can seem daunting, but really, it’s amazing. It means we have unlimited potential to grow.
Just like going to the gym or learning a new skill, the newbie gains are real. At first you will be really bad, but as you learn and practice you can quickly improve. As you get better the growth becomes more marginal, but best believe the growth is still there and there will always be room for more. The harder it is the more rewarding it will be when you succeed. In the grand scheme of things you will never be done growing, but you can still be successful with each step you take in the right direction.
The biggest way we can combat our bias is simply being aware of it. This seems easy enough, but it’s not. Even if you are aware of your bias one day, you may not be aware of it the next day when it pops up in a different way.
Constantly reminding yourself that you subconsciously have biases towards people who look like you and biases against those who don’t is hard because you will have the feeling of “Well I should just stop that then because if I don’t I’m just a racist.”
Know that it’s not your fault personally and if you were born into a true egalitarian society this probably wouldn’t even be a problem. But in the world we live in it will continue to be a problem for a long time, possibly forever if we never acknowledge it. By acknowledging our bias we are admitting our flaws and saying that we want to counteract them.
Understand that we are all works in progress and value learning about other peoples and cultures. Implicit bias is strongest in those who don’t try to understand other perspectives and wield their opinion as fact. Give others the benefit of the doubt, especially when you know your implicit bias could be at play.
And don’t take it personally when you’re not as far along your journey of self improvement as your thought you were. As long as you are making the effort then you are still on the right path.