On December 3, we dove into “Implicit Bias” – armed from our first session with information and a cultural agreement to open ourselves up to a more diverse and inclusive approach. I learned that bias is a natural function of the human mind, and to think we are “unbiased” just cannot be true, nor does it make us a bad person. The session was filled with examples of unconscious bias as a natural function of the human brain, which help us simplify and sort the constant stream of input and stimulus in our everyday lives. The implicit bias we were tasked with identifying is what affects our behavior towards another person; things that, in a resort setting, might include race, perceived experience with snowsports and the mountain environment, and command of the English language.
Upon reflection, I discovered that what I believed to be an “unbiased,” “fair” upbringing in middle-class Oakland in the 1970s was actually a heavily affected bias formed by biology, socialization, unconscious bias, and conscious actions.
Growing up with a third-generation Japanese American mother and an immigrant Japanese father, it was natural to surround ourselves with friends, neighbors, and classmates of different races. My parents’ experiences as world travelers also brought the world closer, through the intimate medium of living-room slide shows and stories of their travels. Through association with and inclusion of others by my parents and extended family, I was brought up to believe the world was mostly fair, safe, and accepting. This is an example of implicit bias with a positive connotation.
Implicit bias can take a turn when it hints at a derogatory connotation. One example is when a driver locks their doors upon stopping next to a person asking for money at a traffic light. Another is when a white woman, upon seeing a black man approach her on the street, clutches her purse more tightly.
The simple act of increasing awareness of implicit bias can decrease one’s automatic or unconscious reactions. Taking time to slow down to be conscious of the person, environment, situation, and context can help create a more reliable and measured response that can open the doors of communication and relationships. Hey, that sounds like something I read in a snowsports manual…
Our last session, held December 17, was titled “Microaggressions,” and it prompted lively discussions about intent versus impact. We have all been witness to the form of microaggression known as microassaults, which are generally characterized as explicit, violent, and/or intentionally hurtful words or actions. There is no mistaking the assault. Indeed, I have been the recipient of these microassaults, as I felt the post-World War II prejudice against Japanese people well into my childhood years. How strange to use the word “micro” for something that delivers a “macro” impact.
Microinsults and microinvalidations are a bit more hidden, in that they are sometimes disguised as a backhanded compliment, can convey a hidden insult, or show blatant disregard for the other person’s reality; statements like, “You rip, for a girl!” or “I’m not being racist, I have an Asian girlfriend!” We have become numb to these microinsults, and yet we all play a role – whether we are the target, the agent of the assault, or the witness. Targets – and witnesses – have to make an immediate, personal assessment of their response. Sometimes they’ll determine it’s not worth the confrontation, or sometimes it’s too embarrassing, or just easier to let it slide. I cannot imagine the weight of more minoritized groups than mine having to deal with daily microinsults or microaggressions in a more outwardly aggressive community.
The bottom line, of course, is that we need to validate people for who they are as they stand before us. Prejudice is a habit, but habits can be broken, if we choose to do so, and if we are vigilant.