At the confirmation hearing for Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland, United States Senator Joe Neely Kennedy asked Garland if implicit bias made him a racist. He went on to misunderstand, either genuinely or purposely, what implicit bias even is. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon issue with the rest of the American people.
First, we need to tackle what implicit bias is. Implicit bias, at a very basal level, are the conditioned biases that we all carry around with us. Garland points out this distinction, stating that implicit bias is merely part of the “human condition.” At the lowest level of the topic, I agree, but we cannot apply this thinking to the rest of the discussion. Like most things, implicit bias is an incredibly nuanced topic and cannot be boiled down to good or bad, black or white, up or down, etc.
Implicit bias becomes an issue when it begins to affect the way people live their lives in a negative way. This can obviously be internal or external. I’ll give an example: someone who grew up in communities where people of color were either policed at a harsher level or were in lower socio-economic status for the majority of their lives would likely have an implicit bias against people of color. They may consciously realize it but when they think of a gang or a criminal, their first thought is either a person of color or someone who dresses in the stereotype of a criminal person of color. This differs from what we call “explicit bias.” As you can probably imagine, these are out front and in the open. To use a slightly less extreme example, someone decrying Chicago deep dish pizza openly and actively avoiding eating it would have an explicit bias against it. For the purposes of thought, one could easily switch out pizza for marginalized groups.
How do implicit biases affect the way people walk throughout the world? Implicit biases cause people to forget that the world is a beautifully diverse place. The common adage related to this is that “normal is a setting on the washing machine.” Admittedly, it’s a little goofy but the adage’s principle is true. In reality, there is no normal human. Every person is equally as normal and valid as the last. Long has society deemed the white, heterosexual, Christian American man to be the norm, the image that all others should aspire to even if this is not said explicitly. The proof of this is in our own history. The passing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 secured the right to vote for all Black Americans. That is only 56 years removed from our present day.
Examining each of our own implicit biases is vital to achieving a more robust society. Thinking about how we see others in our communities can make us more complete humans and can make our communities much better to live in for everyone. Americans must begin to see the colorful diversity all around us and the lived experience of marginalized communities.