Overcoming Blind Spots and Biases

Doing the work: Overcoming our own racism and racial biases


Our biases hurt us, people and groups about whom we hold biases, hurt businesses and industries, hurt our society as a whole, and hurt our planet. And it’s impossible to not be biased. Biases are a product of the way we categorize, what we believe about categories, and what we prefer based on how we value the characteristics we assign to those categories within our system of belief. We couldn’t live without categorizing. Some people, in their discomfort with acknowledging their own biases will say that they see everyone as individuals, but the brain doesn’t, and can’t work like that.


(A bit of fun: If you’re white, and a friend says, “I don’t see color, “ lean in confidentially and say, “It’s okay man. I’m black.” When they say, “Oh come on. No you’re not,” reply, “So… I guess you DO see it.”) “I don’t see color” is not true. It is impossible to not see color, and if you could see people without noticing their races, you would be missing an important part of who they are. Why would you, or they want that?


Categorizing: There’s not enough time to take in and interpret every single piece of information discretely, and so we put everything into categories such as, “things that are safe,” and “things that are desirable, “ among others. See George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things; What Categories Reveal about the mind. https://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/W/bo3632089.html Food that smells appetizing, for example is a category that keeps us alive by protecting us from eating things that are toxic or spoiled, and causing us to prefer food that smells “fresh” (by our definition) or spiced/condimented in a way that appeals to us. In this same way, we naturally categorize humans, including by associating similar characteristics to individuals within a category.


Think about what categories come up when we start to think of how people are similar or different: Skin color, religion, race, gender, age, body shape, to name a very few. Our biases, or beliefs about the characteristics and desirability of people we place in these categories are so automatic, we may not even be aware of them. That type of bias is called, “Implicit” or “Unconscious” bias.


Acknowledging: If we don’t claim and acknowledge our biases, we can’t reduce, compensate for, or overcome them.


Discovering: If you want to discover something about your unconscious biases, There’s a highly credible way to do it in the privacy of your own home: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html uses a clever bit of neuroscientific magic to demonstrate the degree to which you are wired to make quick judgments – positive and negative– about people without even realizing it. By making your biases conscious, you can reevaluate them, be responsible for the impacts they have, and even begin to change them. You can acknowledge them to other people, or not – Your biases belong to you, and you get to decide where/when to share them, but you can’t decide anything if you don’t know them.



Being Fearless, not hiding: Many of us hide and deny biases for fear of being called “racist.” (Or sexist, ageist, homophobic, etc.) Biases are part of racist behavior, but their harmful impact can be mitigated by learning about them, and committing to fairness or equity.


Mitigate Hurting: Our biases hurt others by limiting the ways we see them – seeing them as less able,less beautiful, less relatable, less connected to us as they are. This results in a self-perpetuating cycle of alienation and economic and social disadvantage for people who are not in power by virtue of being white, male, heterosexual, neurotypical, and generally conforming to an ideal or normal defined by those in power.


Our biases hurt us by depriving us of knowing and appreciating differences, but more than that, whether we admit it or not, they cause us to be afraid.


Biases impoverish our society by not giving people the chance to participate and contribute.


Vernā Myers, my current gender discordant crush (I can’t help seeing her as beautiful, brilliant, funny, kindly, and a force for good) has a great Ted Talk © on Overcoming Bias: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYyvbgINZkQ


Simple Steps: Some of the key takeaways on how to work on overcoming bias:

  • Be real — Not perfect. Nobody is expecting you to be perfect, and it’s too hard. It’s fine to say, “I might get this wrong, “ or “I don’t know, “ or to ask – as long as you don’t take it for granted that is a person of color’s duty to educate you,

  • Deliberately expose yourself to positive examples which contradict your negative stereotypes,

  • Use your privilege to confront microaggressions and inequities. Remember, if you’re tired and don’t feel like it, or if it feels too much like a confrontation you don’t want, people who are impacted by negative biases don’t get to take a break when they don’t feel like it,

  • Teach children to recognize and reject biased thinking.

  • At work – especially in education and healthcare: don’t let diversity, inclusion, and belonging be “events”. If the organization is’nt buying in to the importance of equity as a measurable and measure-worthy contributor to the performance and success of the organization; communicating it, building it into reward and recognition systems, insist on nothing less.

  • When someone tells you their experience of being denied equity, or a. micro aggression, don't:

  • Minimize it, tell them how they should feel, tell them about yours, or what the person people really meant. Just listen with 100 percent intention of understanding from their perspective. You are being given an opportunity to. understand. Take it.

  • Don't expect to be comfortable. Being uncomfortable is okay. It means you are growing

There are lots of great FREE resources out there. Here are just a few. Enjoy them as a learning journey and as your part of making the world better, and coexisting peacefully.


Emmanuel Acho: Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

Jessica Nordell: The End of Bias: A Beginning: The Science and Practice of Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Erasing Institutional Bias: How to Create Systemic Change for Organizational Inclusion



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