There are many misconceptions about Black women. Apparently, we come off as too aggressive, strong, and domineering; so I’ve been told. It is not uncommon for black women to feel like they have to make others feel comfortable when they’re in a group. The stories I have heard from the women of color I know is that they have to dampen aspects of their personality to fit in, whether it be the workplace or in ministry.
The topic of unconscious bias is a notorious problem for people of color and for women. I felt this was a relevant topic to discuss based on my own personal experiences as a woman of color in the marketplace and in predominantly White environments.
So, when you hear the name Lakisha or see that name written on paper, what picture or preconceived idea comes to mind? Better yet, you are told you have a meeting with a woman named, Lakisha. In your mind, who is the person that is going to walk through that door to meet with you? Is it the ghetto fabulous black girl with the 22-inch weave, stilettos, and breasts popped up for show and tell? Or do you think of a low income single black mother striving to take care of multiple children that she “bears the burden” of caring for?
The example listed above, Name Bias, is one of multiple different types of biases or prejudices people have toward one another. Yes, it’s true we all have unconscious biases. Hidden assumptions and evaluations can affect our behavior in powerful ways. So let’s discover its meaning before we dissect and discuss how to dismantle it.
What is Unconscious Bias?
This term is primarily used in business and corporate environments. It is strongly used in Human Resources as a flag for workplace discrimination. But unfortunately, it is a behavior that does not begin and end with your 9 to 5. It is everywhere and happens all the time.
“Unconscious biases, also known as Implicit Biases, are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing” (Navarro, 2020).
May it also be stated that biases, conscious or unconscious, are not only within the discussion of ethnicity and race. Though racial bias and discrimination are well documented, biases may exist toward any social group. Age, gender, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, weight, and many other characteristics are subject to bias.
To help bring this to life, we’ll dive into a few examples starting with one I have personally been impacted by, Name Bias. Name Bias is the tendency people have to judge and prefer people with certain types of names. This usually occurs when names are not of Anglo origin. This is one of the most pervasive examples of unconscious bias in our culture. “One study found that white names receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than African American names. The same study showed that Asian last names are 28% less likely to receive callback for an interview compared to Anglo last names” (Reiners, 2020).
Gender Bias is the tendency to prefer one gender over another. For example, a male is praised for being firm and providing direction. He is considered a strong leader. Whereas, a woman is adversely affected and is considered too assertive and aggressive when being firm. Also, she is often characterized as an obscenity when demonstrating these leadership qualities. It is a double standard.
Ageism is the tendency to have negative feelings about another person based on their age. Have you heard some course jokes or sarcastic humor around those Millennials? “More than half — 52 percent — of American workers aged 18 to 34 say they have witnessed or experienced ageism” (Manskar, 2019). On the contrary, as people start to enter their fifties, they are more attuned to discrimination in the workplace. So much so that 58% of workers in their fifties or older have encountered age discrimination first hand. At that point, it can be more difficult to change careers, find a job or move up in their careers because managers tend to value experienced but younger talent” (Manskar, 2019).
To bring this full circle, we process vast amounts of information. To simplify, our brains tend to categorize the world around us. This enables us to know what to expect and how to react around certain objects or situations. Consequently, we automatically categorize other human beings.
“Research shows that beliefs and values gained from family, culture and a lifetime of experiences heavily influence how we view and evaluate both others and ourselves” (Institute, 2017). Therefore, if you exercise unconscious bias, you are prejudice. To have a bias means to be in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Webster states that to be prejudice is to show, “an unfavorable opinion or feeling toward someone without knowledge, thought, or reason toward an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group” (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/prejudice, 2020).
How does our unconscious biases impede our ability to be true reconcilers of The Gospel?
Unconscious bias is sin. Making negative preconceived assumptions about a people group is sinful behavior. My husband, Josh Clemons, recently talked about this topic and clearly addressed the root of the problem: “If racism is a sin issue, it’s a sanctification issue. If racism is a sanctification issue, it is a discipleship issue. If racism is present in the church, we must name it as a discipleship failure.”
We are missing presenting an authentic Gospel to an entire generation. Here is one story of many: “Luke Olliff, a 30-year-old man living in Atlanta, says that he and his wife gradually shed their religious affiliations. ‘We moved to a city and talked a lot about how we came to see all of this negativity from people who were highly religious and increasingly didn’t want a part in it.’ This view is common among young people. A majority (57 percent) of millennials agree that religious people are generally less tolerant of others” (Cox, 2019).
Having unconscious biases negatively affect our ability to be a sound witnesses of the Gospel. We are exercising behaviors that are against the very core of our biblical values. Mark 12:30-31 outlines the greatest commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” John 13: 35 reminds us,” By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Scripture requires us to be known by our love. It is our responsibility to demonstrate that competency as Believers by truly loving one another across color, class, and culture.
What we can do to help eliminate Unconscious Bias?
You may not necessarily feel it, but many of those around you do. As a result, unconscious bias creates barriers to inclusion, engagement, and connectivity. Certain biases are definitely hard to unlearn. But understanding how to mitigate its impact and being intentional in educating your family and friends is a skill that everyone can do.