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Racism by Accident: Is Unconscious bias to blame?


By now most companies, as well as diversity and inclusion professionals know, that in order for change to take hold of an individual or group they cannot be forced into training or conversations on this topic against their will. In my experience one of the reasons some individuals resist, is because, well…they are offended. The feel that they don’t need it because “this stuff is for the people with the hoods and that’s definitely not them”. But I’ve seen in many a workshop, that people have a “Huh…Interesting” moment when they realise that acts of discrimination, prejudice of even racism do not have to have intent. Furthermore, an individual of a prevailing dominant culture can do something deemed racist however they themselves are a not a racist. This Moment is usually a game changer. In many cases offenders, end up defending their actions (which actually makes them come across worse) because in fact they are actually defending their character. “That wasn’t a racist thing I did, cause I’m not a racist”; when in fact it was… you just didn’t know.

“Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We imagine we’re good decision makers, able to objectively size up a job candidate or a venture deal and reach a fair and rational conclusion that’s in our, and our organization’s, best interests,” writes Harvard University researcher Mahzarin Banaji in the Harvard Business Review. “But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.”

Here are two examples from a CNN research poll done.

"When you think backwards, what you think is normal is really cultural pressure that pushes you into bias, implicit and conscious," said sociologist Charles Gallagher, chairman of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at LaSalle University in Philadelphia.

1. Who are your three best friends?

Picture your three BFFs, excluding your romantic partner. Chances are, they're the same race as you, according to various surveys. In fact, the CNN/Kaiser Foundation poll found that despite the millennial reputation for inclusiveness, young white Americans don't have especially multicultural friend groups.

2. Do you have a 'gay friend'? A 'black doctor'?

A master status is when one part of a person's social identity, such as being black, disabled, gay or Muslim, becomes the central and most important aspect of who that person is.

"This is typically a label conferred on an individual, and it becomes subconsciously linked to the person by those around him or her," said Gallagher

It's hard to say whether it's linked to hidden bias, especially since labeling someone might be a conscious, well-meaning effort to identify that person from others with their most distinctive quality.

But consider the reverse: How often do you refer to someone as your "straight white friend"?

3. Do you 'only date' a certain type?

There's no question that the United States is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Still, relatively few adults marry people of different races.

In 2013, about 12% of new marriages in the U.S. were between spouses of different races, according to a Pew Research analysis of American Community Survey data.

Many factors play into our choice of potential partners: religion, social values, political views, physical appearance.

Or, maybe it "just happened," and you fell in love.

The pool you were selecting from was already chosen for you.


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