Overcoming unconscious bias and understanding how the things we say may unintentionally promote racism is a GR8 stride on the journey through the levels of self-development. Unfortunately, unconscious bias is something that everyone has, as much as we would like to believe that we don’t. Our actions, thoughts, and words are all affected by the process that happens deep within our brains.
What this means is that sometimes we may say things that promote racism, even if we don’t mean for them to sound that way. But our words impact others; comments that may promote racism are not only wrong, they make individuals uncomfortable in the workplace and at social gatherings. We must learn to overcome unconscious bias so that those around us feel equal, valued, and most importantly loved.
What Is Unconscious Bias?
Unconscious bias forms in your brain as you collect information over the years. It starts when you are very young, as you watch the things your parents and adults say and do. It continues as you watch movies, read books, and interact with classmates and kids in the neighborhood. Our brains begin creating biases before we even know that they are doing so.
Your brain uses all of this information to make connections every day. You begin to associate certain things as good, certain things as bad, others as scary, and so on. You also begin to associate gender, race, and even physical attributes such as height with different connotations. Again, you do not do this consciously. Your brain does it for you, automatically.
What’s even more, is that overcoming unconscious bias can be particularly difficult because the information your brain stores from early childhood may directly contradict the experiences you have as an adult. However, we must make ourselves aware of these patterns and correct them.
Things We Say That May Promote Racism
It’s very easy to say you are not racist. But do your words match the belief you have about yourself? You have friends of color, your co-workers are a diverse group of individuals, and you’re always kind to strangers. However, you may unconsciously say things that promote racism. As one human race it’s time that we come together and address this fact.
Common Statements That Promote Racism
Below are common statements that can promote racism. You may hear these referred to as “micro-aggressions.” They are often indirect comments without malicious intent, yet they still single out others and need to be examined.
These comments can include telling a person of color that they “sound white” or that they “speak well.” It implies that a person of color is not expected to sound as articulate compared to others, and phrases like these are wrong.
Instead of telling someone they speak well or are very articulate, compliment them on their specific ideas. Say things such as “Your insight on how our business model will be impacted by these developments is extremely valuable.”
Other examples include asking people “where they’re from” or commenting on physical attributes such as their “natural hair.” Phrases such as “I love your accent” also single out individuals.
Additionally, many people say with all well intentions that they “don’t see color.” While you mean to say that you don’t judge anyone based off of the color of their skin, you may be invalidating the very real experiences of those same people you’re saying you do not judge.
To say you “don’t see color” is to imply that you do not recognize the different challenges others face. Yet we must see color, we must be aware of other’s experiences and feelings, and we must seek to change the way we unconsciously promote racism in our society.
Statements with Racist Origins
Another thing that many individuals are unaware of is that many “common” statements and phrases have racist origins. These are phrases that we use casually in conversation, that you probably never thought twice about. However, education is key, and learning the history behind these phrases and words can help when overcoming unconscious bias.
The Peanut Gallery
You’ve probably heard a teacher or two say “No comments from the peanut gallery,” but this phrase has racist origins. In the 1800s the peanut gallery was the theater section with the worst view and the cheapest seats, generally occupied by people of color.
The word “uppity” is also one you’ve most likely heard many times, but it originates from White Southerners describing people of color negatively. It was often used in conjunction with racist slurs.
Another term people use frequently, “the grandfather clause,” came about after the passing of the 15th amendment which gave African Americans the right to vote. However, states began imposing poll taxes and literacy tests in an attempt to block people of color from voting. However, there were white individuals who could not read or afford to pay taxes, too. The grandfather clause made these white men exempt from the taxes and tests if they came from a lineal descent of whites who could vote before the amendment. Meaning, they had a grandfather who could vote before the amendment passed.
There are many other phrases with racist, ethnic, and religiously biased origins. These include phrases such as “gypped” which was a slight against Romanis, or “hip hip hooray!” which is thought to be derived from anti-Semitic chants of the German Confederacy in the 1800s.
Overcoming Unconscious Bias and Racial Speak
Overcoming these unconscious biases is essential. Whether you use terms you didn’t realize had racist associations or unintentionally use micro-aggressions when interacting with others, it’s important to learn, grow, and change.
The challenging part is un-training your brain; it has spent your entire life collecting information that you now have to unlearn. Doing this won’t happen overnight. It will take time, but the key is to continue educating yourself, being aware of yourself, and looking closely at the things you say and think.
Doing research on your own, beyond what is covered in this article, is a GR8 way to further the process of self-development and become more in-tune with the world around you. Never stop learning, and never stop looking for ways to improve your relationships and interactions with others. And most importantly, share what you learn with those around you and encourage them to become aware of their unconscious biases and racial speak as well.