We all have biases. Biases we know we have, biases we wish we could get rid of, biases we’ve encountered in our everyday life.
Biases are something we usually keep hidden deep inside, whether we know it or not. They are often difficult to address, and can easily become a taboo. Everyone has biases, and biases in themselves aren’t dangerous. However, if these biases inform our decisions, it may lead to discrimination, especially when these biases concern a vulnerable group.
In 2017, as we were working on our new exhibition, Detours, we couldn’t help but wonder: how could we have an exhibition about refugees without addressing biases? By creating the Bias Bar, we wanted to take an essential part of the refugee crisis debate into the museum and acknowledge its role in the way we perceive each other.
A bar is a place where you meet others, discuss the latest news and sometimes, let out some of your frustration. Our Bias Bar was a bar where you were served biases, either your own or those you had been exposed to. After seeing all six art installations making up the exhibition Detours, this bar was a space for you to sit down and let your impressions sink in, and even contribute by sharing a bias of yours. It was an informal space with a low threshold: the whole conversation took place on drinks coasters, created for that purpose.
The result exceeded our expectations. We ended up using over 2,000 coasters. Our experiment was met with honesty, humility, a good dose of humour and some touching confessions.
“I judge people as soon as I see them. I wish I could stop.”
“Because I’m Jamaican, everyone expects me to smoke weed.”
“I need to become more educated on Muslim beliefs and culture.”
The best way to address biases isn’t necessarily facts or knowledge, it’s contact with others. There’s only so much an exhibition can do, but we believe it’s a start. Could this turn into an experiment in empathy as more and more bricks make it onto the shelves? How much can such an installation achieve in the six months the exhibition is on display?
Here’s the menu.
Up to you to either share something personal or react to one of these:
• Share a bias of your own that you would like to get rid of.
• Write down a bias someone has had towards you.
• What is the funniest stereotype you know of?
• “All terrorists are Muslims.”
• “Refugees are just looking for money.”
• “There is no racism in Norway.”
• “Women who wear hijabs are oppressed.”
• “I’m not a racist, but…” (fill in the blank)
And here are some of the biases we’ve been served:
“I often think that people are less educated than me when they don’t share my political opinions.”
“People think that because I am an introvert, I am easily manipulated and can be spoken for.”
“I’m not a woman because I don’t want kids.”
“I’m a medical doctor and I’m homosexual. I’ve been told that I’d better make transvestite shows, instead of being a doctor!”
“When the IRA bombed London, Manchester and Birmingham, we didn’t ban all the Irish or Catholics, we understood it was a small group of arseholes.”
“I am not a racist, but I voted for Donald Trump.”
The Bias Bar was part of Detours, an exhibition about people being forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere. It was on display at the Nobel Peace Center from March to September 2017. The Bias Bar was made possible by the financial support of the Norwegian National Commission for UNESCO and the Oslo Municipality.
This article was originally published on nobelpeacecenter.org on May 5th, 2017. This is an edited version.