Recognizing Unconscious Bias and Helping Folks “Be More”
December 6, 2018
In my house, you don’t question adults. You listen and you agree. I think that worked just fine for me because I didn’t like to ask a lot of questions anyway.
But when we don’t ask questions, we don’t think. We aren’t wondering if there is something wrong or if there is something that can be improved. I didn’t question my mom until she started talking about things that I could do versus things that my brother could do. Tommy didn’t have to clean around the house. He was the boy. I couldn’t fix things because that’s a man’s job. But as Tommy cleaned his room and I fixed the constantly malfunctioning garage door, we collectively revealed my mom’s biases to her in regards to gender stereotypes and chipped away at those misconceptions one day at a time. It’s this kind of collaboration between Tommy and I that opens up conversations about the unconscious biases that my very loving and selfless mom had internalized from her childhood in Vietnam, a childhood where her parents told and convinced her of the distinct roles and capabilities of an individual based on gender.
During his time in law school, Anurag Gupta was reminded of the unconscious biases that come into play with race. When observing a judge issue bonds in court, he watched in disgust as the judge, who he had met before and was fond of, issue young African-American males irrationally high bonds for even the most minuscule offenses. He then talked to his colleague about how outrageous he thought the whole situation was and they agreed on one thing: Everything is always changing, but racism is permanent.
In these instances, Gupta tried to wrap his head around the systemic barriers that made him and his friend believe that racism had to be permanent. He started looking at the institutionalized obstacles that bar the United States from full equality and justice. That’s when he founded Be More America, an organization that actively attacks the root of America’s disparities: internal, unconscious biases.
“We are way past the age of information, we are now in the age of imagination,” Gupta said in his talk to Claremont McKenna College students. Imagination, he elaborates, is essential to being able to recognize and disregard our biases when we make judgments or decisions. He then stresses that the crux of breaking biases is emotion — recognizing emotions, understanding why we feel certain emotions or why we instinctively react in certain ways, and, consequently, making conscious decisions after considering those feelings and the reasons behind them.
Since it was established in 2014, Be More America has conducted bias research and personalized trainings for corporations, companies, teachers, employers, and more in order to help individuals realize their unconscious biases and work towards breaking those prejudiced habits. Gupta then explains that it is essential that theses bias trainings are shame-free. He says that social change can only happen in an environment where there is no shaming, blaming, or guilt-tripping. “Bias is an algorithm of the mind,” he said, “It is not personal.”
From his bias research, Gupta also states that the barrier to a bias-free world is misinformation. He highlights that these bias trainings are rooted in practicing mindfulness, compassion, and empathy — practices that help individuals realize when they or others are misinformed. This realization allows us to consciously avoid biases ourselves and to correct someone, instead of hating them, if they are misinformed.
Towards the end of his talk, Gupta capitalizes on the need to be more understanding and to be more willing to rectify our biases. From the moment we are born, we form our biases, internalize them, and heed to them. However, with more transparent conversations and mindfulness practices, we can overturn inequities, enhance our relationships with one another, and maximize our potential to love, to accept, and to work as human beings.
“Wherever you focus your mind, that’s where energy will go. Don’t focus on hatred. Let’s focus on the possibility of the imagination.”
By Julie Tran’20