Have you ever had a random existential crisis? I remember how I began to feel those first pains of “growing up” when I was young. I was sitting there eating an ice cream cone and suddenly trying to figure out who I was while wondering how much control I had over who I was going to become. I was a daughter, a college student, a sister, a runner, a Texan – I kept reinforcing these identities and wearing them like a name tag to understand the world around me. But who was I without this context?
Although this realization was unsettling, I remember feeling curious to “know” myself on a deeper level. And so began the path to a greater awareness of how the little world I had known so far in my life and the systems in the game had subtle and even invisible ways to shape my identity and my beliefs. I’m still on my way to uncovering my own prejudices and I know this is a lifelong job. The ability to pave my own way from that day on was a privilege in itself, even if I hadn’t seen it then.
Recent events have shown us that we still have a long way to go to uncover our prejudices, especially in the fight against systemic racism. Instead of waiting for others to teach us, we were asked to listen, learn, and question some of our long-standing beliefs. While this topic is not new, this collective reckoning, coupled with the work of space leaders who have struggled for change for decades, has encountered innumerable resources in recent months. Books on bias and racism are sold out, and we have had many conversations on our team about how to translate allies into action, how the information we consume shapes us, and how we embrace and embody anti-racism. While this problem doesn’t just affect individuals, it starts with us. Confidence isn’t the whole answer – but it’s a tool that can pave the way for change.
How do we become more self-confident and break down our own prejudices? Psychotherapist Christina Fondren, LMSW reminds us that “our brain is malleable”. In her practice she uses therapy as an aid Your customers live with greater clarity, purpose, and connection with themselves and others.
When it comes to prejudice, her indicates that “jJust as good psychotherapy literally improves the mechanisms and connections in the brain, it is also possible to change the associations and attitudes we form in our brain towards others. ”
We interviewed Christina about implicit bias and how it affects our behavior, especially at a young age. She believes that this work of not learning unconscious prejudices begins with humility, openness and curiosity. With more confidence we can Approach difficult conversations with authenticity and better learn what advocacy and actions are really needed. After all, isn’t the invitation to grow, change, and love one another one of the greatest gifts we can give and receive? Keep scrolling for Christina’s guidance …
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Image by Ashley Kane
What is Implicit Bias?
Implicit bias is essentially the result of the brain’s natural tendency to search for patterns and associations in order to synthesize information and understand a very complicated world. It is important because it can have detrimental consequences on both an individual and a societal level. Implicit bias is linked to oppression and persistent sociopolitical, economic, and health inequalities. So we’re not just talking about an unconscious brain process that takes place in a vacuum.
Implicit bias does indeed have reverberant repressive aftermath, making it a human rights issue that deserves our attention.
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What does implicit bias cost?
These prejudices can have a significant impact on how we act and move around the world. They can negatively impact behavior and decision-making in the workplace, school, healthcare and other settings. Implicit bias leads to the development of preconceived notions or opinions about groups of people and specific characteristics. This can lead to both individual and systemic discrimination and restrict freedom and access to equal opportunities.
Put simply, implicit bias creates barriers and limits to a person’s ability to reach their full potential.
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Photo via Teva
How are privileges and implicit biases related?
Implicit biases and privileges share the quality of invisibility and are also deeply related. Privileges are the undeserved benefit of belonging to a particular social identity – such as race, gender, (disability), religion, social class, etc. – that is “dominant” in society.
The problem with privilege is that it cannot exist without oppression. Minority groups experience oppression by succumbing to the unconscious and conscious judgments and stereotypes of the dominant groups with power. As a result, the implicit prejudices of the privileged in our society drastically shape the larger social narrative of minority groups.
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Are there habits that perpetuate prejudice that we already have?
Oh yes, too many to name! Think for a moment about who you follow on Instagram, what TV shows and movies you watch, or who you spend most of your time with. You may find a common thread in the fact that most of these people look like you, how you speak, dress like you, and come from a similar socio-economic background, education, and neighborhood as you. This can perpetuate what is known as intra-group bias, a tendency that people have of preferring their own group or characteristics over those of others.
In other words, the prejudices and prejudices we have are often compounded by our habits and the larger systems of oppression.
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Photo by Steven Simko
How do we learn implicit bias?
Implicit bias is a unique result of both nature and care. As we discussed in relation to nature, our brains subconsciously form associations and prejudices to make it easier for us to take in data about the world. At the same time, implicit bias is also a result of the socialization process into which all humans are born. Babies are like sponges that are constantly being influenced, shaped, and taught by their surroundings. The consequence of this paired power is that the development of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination is largely organic and has its roots in early childhood. And during our lifespan, our environment and our psychological processes can often negatively reinforce deeply rooted beliefs toward certain groups of people.
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How can we expose our own prejudices?
- Start with yourself!
- Educate yourself. Some great resources:
- Practice mindfulness.
- Pay attention to your thoughts and associations with people with different traits and identities.
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How can we have more conversations about implicit prejudice and race with family, friends, colleagues, etc.?
- Be brave and initiate a conversation.
- Lead with humility, openness and curiosity.
- Have a workout at your workplace, community organization, non-profit organization, or university. Check out resources:
- Start a book club. Some great books to start with:
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Can we improve, reduce or even “unlearn” our own prejudices?
The short answer is yes, absolutely! But it takes serious effort and intention. It requires a willingness to have the emotional and painful experience of recognizing your own privilege and unconscious thought patterns. The process of “unlearning” our own prejudices is both challenging and sobering, and also categorically compelling and rewarding.
- Focus on seeing people on an individual human level.
- Evaluate people on personal characteristics rather than generalizations
- Avoid making black and white statements about groups of people and individuals
- Use your mother tongue, especially in connection with chronic illnesses or disabilities. For example: a person who is deaf rather than “a deaf person” or a person who is bipolar rather than “a bipolar person”.
- Increase the exposure.
- Expand your circle to include people from different social, racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds.
- Exercise humility.
- Listen curiously to others more often than you speak.
- Change perspectives.
- Generate authentic empathy and think about what it would be like to follow in the footsteps of a stereotypical person.
- How does it feel to be labeled, consciously and unconsciously, based on the color of your skin, how you dress, your religion, who you love, etc.
- Counteract stereotypes.
- When you find yourself with judgments or preconceptions about a person or group, be aware of evidence that refutes that stereotype.
Christina Fondren, LMSW, is an Austin, TX practicing psychotherapist mentored by Shannon Huggins, LCSW-S. Whether 10 or 60 years old, Christina helps her customers to live more clearly, more purposefully and more connected to themselves and others. She helps clients become more self-conscious and engage with the work of personal growth that can lead to meaningful change. To find out more, email her at [email protected].
This post was originally published on September 7, 2020 and has been updated since then.