In her book, The Dark Side of Light Chasers, Debbie Ford talks about how we consciously or unconsciously hide different aspects of ourselves, ultimately rejecting them because we are afraid to recognize their existence.

Often times, this means refusing to look at things within ourselves that we wish weren’t real. We just push them away in hopes that no one will notice.

I’ve been pondering this book and how it relates to our country these past few days. So much darkness. Right now, I think that our country is struggling to face some pretty hard truths about itself.

One of them being racism. It’s easy to blame and judge others, and there’s plenty of that going around these days.

However, this is just denial and deflection in disguise. I think we tend to look away from our darkest truths because it’s too painful to admit that they exist. Learning about implicit bias and admitting that it exists within each of us is hard.

That implicit bias is a part of ourselves that we wish would just go away. But all of our brains harbor unconscious attitudes and beliefs about others. Going deep into our subconscious and reflecting on how these thoughts directly affect the lives of other people also means admitting that we do, in fact, have a race problem in this country.

“Admitting that we have implicit
bias is tough.”

It’s real. It exists, and Black people live in that reality every day.

There is so much research showing how implicit bias effects real-life settings. Researchers have found that as pediatricians’ implicit biases increase, they are more likely to prescribe painkillers for patients who are White as opposed to Black. 

In the criminal justice system, individuals with more Afrocentric features such as dark skin, a wide nose, and full lips have received longer sentences than their less Afrocentrically featured peers.

Black children are 3 to 4 times more likely to be referred to the office, suspended, or expelled than White children who have committed a similar or lesser offense.

Black children also are disproportionality over-identified and mislabeled as needing special education even when most of these students are found to be without special needs.

The catch with just looking away is that the problems we are seeing these days, the denial, the lack of kindness, the judging, are not going to go away. They’re actually going to keep getting worse.

It was definitely hard for me to admit that I had unconscious attitudes and beliefs about Black people.

One experience I had in college still haunts me. One of my male friend’s had a Black roommate. I was walking across campus one evening on my way to the library when a young, Black man wearing a hoodie started walking towards me (it can’t get any more stereotypical than this).

“It’s easy to blame and judge others, and there’s plenty of that going around these days.”

I immediately put my head down and started walking faster. I looked up just in time to make eye contact with Nnamde. I was ashamed and humiliated. We said nothing to each other because he knew. I saw it in his eyes.

I had assumed that as a Black man, he was danger – not because that’s what I really believed. My implicit bias got activated. Facing the reality about implicit bias and race is hard because it means looking deeply at ourselves and understanding our roles in the problems we are facing today.

Admitting that we have implicit bias is tough because we White people don’t want to admit that we are part of the problem. We like to say that we don’t see color (which is like saying that you can’t see the glasses on my face).

The important thing to understand though is that having implicit bias doesn’t mean that we are racist.

Our implicit biases often don’t align with our declared beliefs because they are unconscious and have been shaped by our life experiences, where we live, who we surround ourselves with, what we see on TV, what we read in the news, and our exposure to people who are different from ourselves.

One thing that helps us unlearn implicit bias is to catch ourselves and stop the unconscious belief when it is activated. This will lead to greater self-awareness and it will be less likely to happen in the future.

“all of our brains harbor unconscious attitudes and beliefs about others.”

However, the biggest and most important thing to do is to have experiences with people who are not like ourselves. This is hard though, right?

Our communities are the most segregated they have been in over two decades. We tend to spend most of our time interacting with the people who are in closest proximity to us, such as the neighborhoods where we live, the churches we attend, the schools where our kids go.

It’s hard to push ourselves through the discomfort and actually go out of our way to put ourselves in different settings with people who are not like us. Fear can get in the way. Life gets in the way. These situations, though, make a huge difference in understanding the unique experiences of Black people.

Start a book club where you can talk about race in our society (which means having members who are not White), attend a panel or lecture on race/affordable housing/poverty, volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter (because race and poverty are intertwined in this country), or spend time in more diverse neighborhoods in your community.

These types of experiences help us gain greater awareness about our implicit biases and when they come out. In these types of situations, I force myself to stay very present and aware so that I can identify when my implicit bias is operating.

It is through these types of events that we not only learn about the experiences of others who are unlike ourselves, we also have an opportunity to glimpse our shared humanity by developing compassion, empathy, and understanding. Right now, we need this more than ever.

Click here for more content by Jen Neitzel, Ph.D.!

Jen Neitzel, Ph.D.
Jen started her career in early childhood education over 20 years ago in the classroom teaching young children with significant behavioral challenges.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I think this is a brave and articulate essay and I applaud the author for her willingness to do the hard thing. She is an inspiration.

    • Therese,

      We appreciate the kind words, thank you. Glad you found this article informative and useful. I will let Dr. Neitzel know you appreciate her work!

      – Brandon

  2. I find this article to be bias. It is race baiting. At no point was any bias other than white bias discussed, when it also blatantly exists. If you want to have a real and factual commentary on what true bias is in this country, then do so. But if you are only trying to make white people look bad, for your own agenda, then just be honest.

    • You are correct, MI, there are all types of biases. For example, there are biases on height, gender, weight, attractiveness, etc.

      However, when discussing implicit racial bias, we can see how this bias negatively impacts the daily lives of African Americans. As referenced in the article, there is research that supports the following:

      – The Influence of Afrocentric Facial Features in Criminal Sentencing
      – Race and School Suspensions
      – Over-Representation of African American Students in Special Education

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on this article. We appreciate the feedback and conversation.

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