The year is 2006 and I’d spent the past two years saving up for a school skiing trip to America. I’d never been skiing and was dead excited. A group of us (self-titled ‘Soufgate gals’) landed in America after an exhaustingly long flight. At this age I was pretty naïve to the whole process of flying without my parents. I’m fairly certain I paid no attention as a child to the whole security, passport control, and luggage formalities.
Slowly, our large group of overexcited ‘annoying little shits’ (as my teacher friend Shenton likes to put it) work their way through passport control. The group started to diminish, and I step up to the barriers look up at the intense stare of the passport control guy and soon I am ushered into a separate room. Moments of confusion flood my mind but deep down I knew why. After 15 minutes I re-join the group with friends asking me ‘where have you been?’, ‘what happened?’. I do the casual, not sure shrug and brush it off. My heart sinking inside because I knew the reason why, but it was easier to try and forget.
If my name was Karen Smith would I have been searched?
If my hair was blonde and my eyes were blue, would I have been questioned?
Fast forward to 2020 and I’m walking down the road. It’s 8pm and I’ve got the classic evening sugar craving to accompany me and my binge of The Crown. I head out in my loungewear and hoodie and make my way to my local shop. The wind blows and I feel a chill down my neck, so I lift up my hood and carry-on walking. Passers-by from a distance spot my slow casual pace and cross the road to then continue straight pass me. Weird. Or is it?
If I had been wearing heels and make up would they cross?
If my skin was white would they cross?
To be honest, I don’t know the answer and frankly the answer isn’t the important part. What is, is being aware of the choices we perhaps make without making them. Does that even make sense? Rebel family, I introduce to you to unconscious bias.
Unconscious bias is a social stereotype that we make about people, outside of our own conscious awareness. Every single one of us holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups. These can range from gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, weight etc.
When I first heard the term unconscious bias, I was adamant this did not apply to me. How can I be bias when I am seen as non-white? It’s impossible. I am a BLM ally and stand and speak proudly of that. I’m from a multicultural part of London, it’s impossible! The denial went on for days and I decided I was going to take the Harvard Test – Project Implicit.
Yup you guessed it. We are all bias.
Femi Otitoju (activist and entrepreneur) puts it nicely “if you have a brain you have bias”.
A little trip down memory lane for you now. Think back to scenarios in your life where perhaps you were left with no explanation as to how a decision was made. Be it a work opportunity, healthcare, education, who gets chosen first for the football team, social gatherings, tinder, the list goes on. Chances are when there is no legitimate reason for a decision then bias whether conscious (explicit) or unconscious (implicit) might have played a factor in it.
Photo credit: Guardian Bias In Britain
Now, I’m not insinuating you roll up to your boss’ door and blame every decision they made on a level of bias. But we can use it to reflect on our own decisions. What is framing our minds to unconsciously create these prejudices? Media. Local demographic. Family. Politics. Childhood. Education. Other opinions.
Take a step back. Reflect. We will no doubt find that we all are guilty of unconscious bias in some way or another. Don’t hit me with any in denial now, don’t forget if you have a brain you have bias. Once we have identified how it affects our behaviour, work, relationships and decision-making, we can question, or better yet, mistrust first impressions. Take a moment to review the decisions we make about people. Let’s ensure that we are being as objective as possible and relying on FACTS instead of our ‘gut feeling’ or assumptions.
When we catch ourselves making a non-factual assumption, we can propose the question, is this a fact? Is this always true? What is the evidence? Slowly we can start to take ownership of our conscious bias. Exercising this will help shape our unconscious bias and in a dream world, without even realising, we can alter those negative unconscious biases we may have adopted throughout our lives.
I made the mistake of being incredibly hard on myself when I came to the realisation I was a victim of unconscious bias. But that’s exactly it – we are all victims and in that we can find unity. I believe the first step in change is being aware, and I hope this leads you to taking the test and helping others do the same. Our brain is an incredible instrument that can help us love but can also help us hate irrationally and hating never led anyone to a happy life.
“We all are prisoners of unconscious bias” – Kirti Chowdhary
Rebels it’s time to break out of prison.