We’ve been doing a lot of anti-racist work here and I thought it was time to take a step back and talk about implicit bias and a way forward.
But first, let’s talk about smog. I live in Phoenix, a place people travel to for guaranteed sun and fresh air. Except that in the winter, the air in Phoenix is anything but fresh. Because of our geography, impurities gets trapped in the valley air during the very seasons we want to be outside. Every time we step out the door, we breathe in pollution.
Implicit bias is like smog (thank you to Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, author of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria, for this example). We breathe it in our entire lives, unaware it even exists unless we consciously choose to analyze the air. Even then, we can’t stop breathing. This air is all we have. But we can become aware of the effects that smog has in our lives.
Smog affects the health of our bodies just as implicit bias affects the health of our minds.
Just like smog, we pick up implicit bias from our environment, from the shows we watch, news headlines, family members, the people in our community, and many other sources. We have no choice but to breathe it in.
If, as a child, we see our parents protect their handbag or wallet every time they walk by a Black person, we will learn that Black people are dangerous. If, as a student, we observe teachers who repeatedly mis-speak Asian names, we will learn that their worth is less than our own. If, at the movies, we only see people of color in stereotypical roles, we will learn that these roles define a race (hello, sassy black romcom friend).
We cannot choose the air we breathe. But, we can choose what to do about the smog once we know it exists.
Have you noticed that, since the Black Lives Matter protests this summer, commercials now include far more people of color? I have. I also recognize that I never noticed the deficit of representation before…I was breathing the smog. But the beautiful people in marketing departments all over the country realized they had the power to change the air and so they did.
We do too.
What we say, how we act, even our body language informs the people around us. But first, we have to understand what is in the air we breathe. Take some time to do this.
And then act. You have something that you can do to reduce the smog. We all do. We all hold influence somewhere, whether it be in our families, in our churches, through the work we do, or in our schools.
Little by little, we are the ones who have the power to change the quality of the air around us. Our work and our hope matters.