If You Think You Are Unbiased, You’re Fooling Yourself
I feel it is vital that we (white people) are honest with ourselves and name our biases, as the first step to racial equality.
I used to go on Facebook to get updates about friends and family. Now I go there to see who is posting and how I feel about what they are saying. Many of you can probably admit you are doing the same thing.
We all feel threatened in some way, so it’s natural for us to want to know who our allies are. This doesn’t mean I am labeling people who disagree with me as enemies.
While it is true, I have an agenda when I post something; I have no illusions that I will get everyone to share my beliefs. My goal is to get you to listen and maybe find one thing that makes sense to you.
And if I disagree with what you are posting, I will still read it to understand if I’m missing something. Before you write me off, listen to what I have to say, we probably have something in common.
Lately, I’ve been reading many messages that say we need to give black people a voice and listen to what they have to say. And that’s fine, for me. I am reading everything I can find to understand what it is like to be a black person today.
I don’t presume that I will ever completely understand, but I agree that it is vital to listen. The problem with this messaging is that many of my fellow white people are not going to listen.
I feel that it will take a lot of white people speaking up, alongside black people, to get the majority of white people to understand. I realize that is a very privileged statement, but hear me out.
I could not begin to understand white privilege until I heard examples that I could relate to my own life. Once I developed that understanding, I was more open to listening. I know it shouldn’t be this way, and I shouldn’t presume that white people are the only ones capable of fixing this.
But, we did create the problem. So, I am using my voice to speak out, but I’m also listening to the voices of black people.
We all feel threatened these days. You may disagree with the protests, but surely you realize that a large segment of our population is angry, which should concern all of us. Humans are wired to handle threats. This instinct is an evolutionary function to ensure the survival of the species.
When threats materialize, our autonomic defenses kick in to protect us. This doesn’t always work the way you would imagine. Some of the protective measures may be harmful. For example, an abused spouse may resort to submission to avoid further harm. This doesn’t fix the problem; it just perpetuates the abuse.
Autonomic responses also involve emotions. Based on my limited experience, my understanding is that humans sometimes protect ourselves from emotions or feelings that might be too painful to handle. A foster child may give the impression that they don’t care about anyone when they want nothing more than to be loved and belong.
When my husband died, my body and mind went into shock, which dulled my emotions somewhat. I got through the first few weeks and then slowly began to feel the emotions when I was able to process them. Of course, each of us is wired differently, and no two responses will be the same.
I also believe we use these defenses to protect our identity. We may cling to a belief, even in the absence of evidence, because the alternative changes our identity. If I believe myself to be a good person, I will have a hard time listening to evidence proving me wrong since that would call into question my entire identity.
I grew up believing I loved everyone, regardless of the color of their skin. I also grew up locking car doors if someone “scary” was near my car. I don’t believe anyone ever told me to be scared of black people, but yet I was.
And I grew up with an understanding that people on welfare could get off if they were just willing to work hard. Those are only a few of my biases.
I feel it is essential that we (white people) are honest with ourselves and name our biases, as the first step to racial equality.
And by the way, I still believe that I want to be a good person. I’m just trying to be more aware of ways that I may be harming others.
As a white person, recognizing my biases and the deeply embedded racism in our way of life is the first step. This new understanding will be a long journey, and I have no illusions that I alone can solve the world's problems. What if I helped one person understand, then they helped another person, and so on?