First of all, what is it?
Thoughts and feelings are “implicit” if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people. Implicit bias is when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it.
I am sure that I just lost some of you...
We all have implicit bias. Everyone. On the planet. All the time. It is part of how we have been raised, the experiences we have and the way we tune out. From my perspective, implicit bias is not something to be defensive about, but rather, something to acknowledge and be on the look out for...to watch and be open to see when it is operational in my life because part of having it, is not knowing that you even have it...
To me implicit bias is kind of like alcoholism. My alcoholic thinking is operational all the time whether or not I know it. Because I am a drunk, I see everything with a particular filter. And in alcoholism’s case, I often do not even realize that it is affecting all of my thoughts, feelings and decisions because I have a diseases that tell me that I do not have a disease. My head will tell me I am fine. All good here. Even though from another perspective I am acting like a total asshole. I don’t see it and that is the issue.
Same with implicit bias. The people for whom it is operating at the most dysfunctional level, do not see it working in their lives. They do not see how their views, perspectives and judgments are being weaponized against others. Do you know how many times I have found myself telling a joke that I heard in my childhood, only to have the words escape from my lips, and then to realize that what I just said was racist or sexist or just gross. I pride myself on being open and loving and the last thing on earth that I would ever want to do is hurt someone else, but there I just made a totally disgusting remark that shocks me in my lack of awareness.
But here is what I have come to know. I used to be so ashamed. So worried that some horrible part of me would leak out, some awful thing that I have no control over because I don’t even know it is in there...I have learned that it is part of who I am. This is not said to give me a pass. I can do better, I must do better than just to accept myself in my flawed form. I believe that it is every human’s birthright to evolve. Do better. Be better. To grow. To learn. To change.
For me, I want to move toward the light that doesn’t distinguish my color, race, gender, age or sexual orientation. I want to see essence. I want to see the human that is standing before me. I want to understand myself and in so doing strengthen a platform for understanding others. I accept that I am going to screw it up. I am going to make mistakes. I can see that and have some compassion for myself and not give into the privileged dialog that follows this logic “I am never going to get this right, so why bother even trying.” I want to instead subscribed to this logic...”I, like everyone else on the planet, have prejudice, bias and preference. I am going to try to remain awake to see how it is operational in my life. When I see it, I am going to attempt to own it and endeavor to change it. I am going to see how it hurts others without my knowledge, permission or consent. Then I am going to work to right what I can and be more conscious of it going forward.”
I do not want to oppress anyone. I do not want to offend anyone. But I am sure just in writing this, I have already done so. In my spiritual practice, intention matters. It matters that I do not set out to be harmful or inflammatory. However, intention only gets me so far. I have to see where my behavior provokes others, “I step on the toes of my fellows and they retaliate seemingly without provocation”. But if I really take the time to look, I can always trace their conduct back to something I said or did that caused the situation to go down the way that it did. This what I believe about myself. I have reviewed my history enough to know that I am an actor, an active participant in my life and largely responsible for any misery that comes my way. Some people will see this as me blaming the victim. I do not mean to say that either. This is just for me. I know there are many people in the world who are just living their lives in peace and because of someone else’s implicit, unchecked bias their lives are damaged, curtailed and often ended.
For me, none of us are free until all of us are free. That is just what I believe. I cannot totally be free while others are still caught, enslaved in a system and society where the color of their skin or their gender or who they prefer to have sex with is a reason to hate them, harm them or kill them. I do see that I have privilege. And I can just enjoy it or I can use it to help others. I can carry the message and be a spokesperson for those whose voices are quieted by their lack of privilege. I can endeavor to make use of all that I have been given and seek to change myself so that I can become a better person in this world. I do this not to ensure that I have a better life. But so that we all may be free from suffering, the root cause of suffering and so that we may all get to experience loving kindness. To be seen for who and what we are and loved dearly. I want to walk the road to enlightenment, not with any real hope that I will ever attain it, but just that I think that is the best use of a life. To use all of life’s experiences and people as teachers on the path to wake me up and help me go forever deeper. Pretty lofty goal for a superficial gal like me....but I want to see myself as true as one can so that I can relate to others...all others...no exceptions. And to love them...regardless.