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The way we view the world affects the way we view and treat the people in it. As a reader of this blog, I know that you will strive to treat everyone with respect, regardless of their culture, background, socioeconomic group, sexuality, or gender. But learning about how our biases influence us can help us to get more skilled at treating all people with respect. Let’s talk about two kinds of bias: explicit and implicit.

Explicit Bias 

Explicit bias is the bias we have toward certain groups of people at a conscious level. These are beliefs that you’re aware you have. Explicit biases will often take the form of stereotyping other people.

Stereotypes are inaccurate, simplistic generalizations about a group or category of people. Stereotypes allow others to shallowly categorize people and treat them in certain ways based on generalized expectations.

In other words, stereotyping people is not good. And the less we know about someone or a group of people, the more likely we are to let stereotypical views drive our imaginations. If, in reflecting on the way you treat the people around you, you find that you have some explicit biases, a great way to curb those notions is to get to know individuals with the backgrounds or affiliations you are biased against. You’ll quickly learn that your stereotypical assumptions do not apply to everyone in that group. People of all kinds are just people, for good and for bad.

Implicit Bias 

Certainly, you may be thinking that you’d never stereotype someone based on their race, nationality, gender, or sexuality. We all strive to be good people, and we think that “good people” don’t do things like that. But it’s not that simple. Because we live in a society with structures in place that reinforce racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, people can hold biased views without meaning to, or even realizing that they’re being influenced by bias. This is known as implicit bias.

The National Center for Cultural Competence explains this type of bias:

Implicit or unconscious bias operates outside of the person’s awareness and can be in direct contradiction to a person’s espoused beliefs and values.

Kinds of Implicit Bias 

Implicit biases start to form in children at a very early age in reaction to the attitudes of people around them, media, and the direct and indirect messages they get from authority figures. When children live in a country with structural racist, sexist, classist, homophobic, and transphobic attitudes, it’s very hard for them to not subconsciously absorb some of those attitudes. Most children may not even realize how their biases are presenting themselves! 

Implicit bias can take the form of:

  • Affinity bias: Affinity bias is the unconscious preference for people who are similar to yourself.
  • Confirmation bias: When you cherry-pick examples to confirm stereotypical beliefs you hold about a person or group of people. Confirmation bias drives people to remember or notice examples of things that confirm their beliefs, but not examples that challenge those beliefs.
  • Microaggressions: Microaggressions are the small-but-exhausting everyday slights and snubs that people in marginalized groups face from people in culturally dominant groups. These can seem “innocent,” but when repeated, cause the people experiencing them to feel targeted with a reduced sense of belonging.

Curbing Implicit Bias 

No matter what their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality is, it’s likely that children of all ages have implicit biases. The Confident Life Program© is designed to help young children identify and unlearn their biases. In the meantime, please share these three things children may do right now to fight implicit bias:

  • Listen to other people. If someone tells you a word you’re using is hurtful or something you’ve done is not okay, don’t get defensive. Instead, listen to what that person is telling you, give a genuine apology, and accept that you’ve got some learning to do.
  • Focus on the impact, not the intent. It feels bad to know you’ve done something hurtful. It’s natural to want to explain that you didn’t mean to affect someone negatively. But the issue isn’t your intent, it’s the impact you’ve had on someone around you. Focus on reducing harm as a young peacemaker, not on explaining your intentions.
  • Pay attention to your thoughts and actions. You can learn to notice your biases by paying close attention to how you behave. Did you treat two classmates of different races differently? How and why? Start noticing these things and you can figure out what actions to take to change your behavior.

It’s important to understand that unlearning internal bias isn’t about you or your child feeling guilty or bad. It’s about learning how to treat other people better. That’s not just good for the world, it’s good for you, your family and your community!

You and your children can begin by:

  • Embracing other people’s differences: Welcome new people (classmates/neighbors/employees) and their unique experiences with open arms!
  • Being sensitive to someone else’s needs and feelings: If you notice something you’ve said rubs someone the wrong way, or they look uncomfortable in a certain setting, be ready and open to change.
  • Holding positive regard for other people you meet: Approach each new classmate like they are a friend you haven’t met yet.

Don’t allow assumptions and stereotypes to control your reactions. Instead, listen actively and adapt your communication style to the other’s cultural context. At the same time, show respect and positive regard through your manners.

And lastly, invite your children and grandchildren to attend multicultural events in your community to learn many different cultures. Experience their foods, traditions, clothing, dances and history. We all have a purpose and the sooner we realize this, the sooner we can raise more peacemakers in the world.


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