The unconscious bias work that Howard has been exploring in the context of diversity and cultural competence over the past 7-8 years is fascinating. It is not fascinating simply because it has become one of the pillars of our approach to the work we do, but more poignantly because it shapes so much of how each and every person responds to the world.
Everyday, we read or hear about some tragedy that happened somewhere. At times when it is closer to us either in proximity or emotional affect, we react to it in a way that is reflective of our compassion for the people who were harmed, or with disdain for those who were responsible for the harm done to another person, place, or thing. Our reactions on a conscious level often seem to be logical and "values" based in that the values we subscribe to are "good values". Maybe not all of us feel this way. Others of us may feel that our values are not all that good and admire values that are opposite of ours--we might call them "anti-values". "Anti" in the sense that they are anti-me.
So, yesterday, after logging out of my hotmail account, MSN was running a Newsweek story about a lady who killed her husband. He was a pastor, they had a family together and she murdered him, pleaded temporary insanity on a post traumatic stress disorder defense, and served about 60 days in a mental health facility and was released without prison time. Some people would be outraged about this, but in the context, others wouldn't. The story indicated that the husband had been abusing her for a long period of time and bascially, she snapped. Now, this women was not famous or infamous. I doubt most Americans would know who she was sat in the room with them. Yet, she is a murderer based on the crime she committed. She is also a victimized and abused wife.
Think for a second as if she was your next door neighboor and she killed your best friend (her husband). Would the reaction be different? Of course, that is a silly questions, right? What if she was your best friend and lived next door and you knew that her husband was abusing her and that she was scared and angry and depressed, etc.? Would what she did be justified? Murder is murder, true? Punishment should reflect the crime, correct?
Well, we know this is not always the case. Here is the dynamic, when we stand back and look at the situation with our values compass, we will without a doubt, each evaluate the situation in a different way based on our experiences, learned norms and values, and biases which are most of the time unconscious.
Yesterday it was annouced that Michael Vick is going to admit his guilt in a federal case against him for dogfighting. In Atlanta, where I live as reflected throughout the country, many black people feel that he is being unfairly targeted and many whites feel that he did something heinous and he should pay the price and be kicked out of the league (lose his job forever).
We react to the Michael Vick situation in the ways we do because of our biases. Whether we are black or white or another race/ethnicity, we react because we love dogs and other animals (at least those we don't eat); we react because of athletes being arrogant and doing stupid things thinking they can get off the hook and "when they are making 'all that money' they should know better"; we react because we wanted to win a Superbowl as Falcons fans and he disrupted the chances; we react because of race whether we are black and feel like he is being targeted or white and feel like "this is not about race, so the 'race card' doesn't apply".
Every opportunity to really look at our biases is an opportunity to see what lies under the surface of our decision making and responses to the world and how the influence of our biases has to be taken into account if we truly want to live, work and play in harmonious and inclusive environments. It is not about who is right and wrong; instead, it is about authentic communication, personal introspection, and transformation.
I am not a big news person, but I have begun to take inventory of my responses to what comes on when I do read it via the web or otherwise. My personal biases are there and I am glad I get the opportunity to see them. They become more conscious than unconscious over time.