The Invisible Discriminator – You Too Have Bias

Last week, I came across this video via social media. In it, a ‘man clad in black’ springs up behind the actors, communicating negative ideas to the actors about other people based on stereotypes. And each time, the actors’ actions towards the victims are influenced by the ideas previously fed them (the actors) by the man in black; a woman who came into the store to buy milk of whom the man in black had inquired what she was up to was watched more closely by the storekeeper, and a young woman chose to stand in the bus rather than sit bedside a man who had made room for her. At the end of the video, the viewer is urged to Stop. Think. Respect.

The video was made to draw attention to how prejudices influence our judgment and actions towards other, and how unless we stop to think about it, we won’t know we unknowingly treat others with disrespect.

A day after I watched the video, I was walking by someone from a certain race and gender I feel uncomfortable with when he tried to make eye contact. My first impulse was to look away. However, remembering the video, I looked him in the eye and exchanged a harmless smile and smattering of greetings.

The following day, I walked into the bus and unconsciously decided I wasn’t going to take the first two empty seats I saw; one I passed because the person next to it I considered overweight, the other I passed because the gentleman next to it had a shoulder-length hair. After I found a seat next to someone I considered didn’t have ‘issues’, I remembered the video from the day before. I had never thought that I had such biases until I watched the video. As I sat in the bus fingering my rosary and crossing myself (taking the bus frees my hand to either read a book or say the rosary in the morning, among other benefits), I wondered if the person next to me, who could well be a Buddhist, would be wondering what the heck I was doing fingering beads and making gestures.

An incident from this week made me realize I may have forgotten the lessons from last week too soon. I entered the bus (Yea, I take them often, have been hoping to do a blog about that) and as there were no more seats, a middle-aged man sitting behind me gave up his seat for me which I took gratefully. Afterwards, I noticed he had well-manicured long nails. Then the ‘man clad in black’ made me question what the gentleman’s real motives were when he gave up his seat for me. Mind you, the gentleman never engaged me in any conversation till he exited the bus, yet his nails made me appreciate his kindness less. I have a certain prejudice against men who take good care of themselves.

When I took mediation classes, I learned that people can more readily stop racism, sexism etc if we make them understand them for what they really are: implicit bias. If we realize we all have prejudices, then we can STOP. THINK. and RESPECT more often. Because the truth is: ‘You can never judge a book by its cover’ ( Yea, the print of Adichie’s Americanah I read arguably had the most unattractive cover I have seen in a book, but the novel may well be my favorite book ever).

We all are unique in our own way and appreciating our diversity and cultural differences will help us enjoy one another more. So STOP. THINK. RESPECT.

Do you have biases? Have you ever caught yourself treating someone a certain way based on their looks? I’ll appreciate your comments below.

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6 thoughts on “The Invisible Discriminator – You Too Have Bias

  1. Do you have Biases… Bias i try not to, but I am Intuitive. Sometimes the outcome of both maybe similar in behaviour but I can’t fault the later.(personal opinion) while I think Bias is a premeditated and deliberate negative behaviour towards another. Intuition is, all your God giving senses acting (hyper acting sometimes) as a defence mechanism against a consciously or unconsciously perceived threat; when that happens its only normal for one to put up an attitude that may be percieved negative. over time i have learned that it pays me more to rely on my instincts. Besides what stays in your thoughts (for instance the reasons behind the seats you didnt take in the bus) doesn’t harm anyone so why sweat it. While I understand and appreciate the logic behind your post I do not think the instances you gave depict cogent scenario . I think your behaviour in the different Bus scenerios are profound. 1, Notting wrong in making a concious choice to seat confortably and 2, One can’t be too careful and it very dangerous to be too trusting I will rather err in the side of caution any day any time. In as much as we strive to be better human beings but we are first and foremost human and imperfection is our primary nature. Hence occasions where your intuitions makes your act like a jerk or you are at the receiving end of a biased behaviour you understand that it’s all part of life and living. I think it’s more realistic that way than living every second trying not to step on another’s toe (just dnt premeditate it). The question back at you.. WHAT IF YOUR PERCEPTION IS RIGHT? WHAT IF THAT DANGEROUS LOOKING FELLOW IS INDEED A SERIAL KILLER?

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    • Thank you for you in-depth analysis, Chiks. It’s true that sometimes our instincts can be right. However, at other times they can lead us to treat people with less dignity even when they do not pose any threat. Let’s take a look again at the scenarios in the bus. In what way could the obese man possibly harm me except maybe take a few inches from my seat? I avoided the man with long hair merely because I reflexively thought he may have gender identity issues. But what does how he identify, as a man or woman, affect my enjoying a thirty minute ride sitting next to him? We can only understand the negative effects of bias when we are at the receiving end. Black men often tell with hurt how store attendants follow them around based on the preconceived notion that they are more likely to shoplift. The obese man I decided to ignore might have been struggling with his weight and by the time five people chose not to sit near him, he will be depressed. As welcoming as U.S and its people are, immigrants often feel treated a certain way just because of their accents. Yes, I was once advised against practicing law here because of an accent I consider very impressive by Nigerian standards but which isn’t the acceptable one here. The think in the ‘Stop, Think, Respect’ is there to encourage one to re-assess one’s motive for trying to avoid certain persons. If after due consideration, one thinks there is a valid reason to take oneself away from a certain situation, then there may be valid reason to do so. Thank you for your fresh perspective on the issue and I will definitely keep that in mind.

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  2. Nice responds Anne. One of my customized motto is “you can be a B**ch but don’t act like One”. am totally against negative Attitude Baised/intuition/instinct whatever! because where your right end another’s begin.
    P.S
    if I were the obese fellow I would be grateful you passed on the seat to give me room for more to myself lol FYI we ain’t all fragile but I agree it more human to be concern about another. cheers Mam’ keep up the good work

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  3. Between Intuition and Bias- I agree both play important roles especially in our reactions to other humans in our environment. But from my own experiences I know that I am able to know distinctly where my thoughts of fear or otherwise are emanating from- either intuition or bias as the case may be. I agree we should listen to intuition whenever the need arises, but with bias, I would imbibe your words Ann- “We all are unique in our own way and appreciating our diversity and cultural differences will help us enjoy one another more. So STOP. THINK. RESPECT.”

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