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In her book Me and White Supremacy, author, activist, and speaker Layla F. Saad discusses, among many other important topics, the ways unconscious bias pervades all aspects of home, social, and work life. Now, I highly suggest you read her book and others on the topic because there is so much more to white supremacy, racism, and unconscious bias than I could ever fit into one blog.
It is also important to note that I am a white, cis-gender, able-bodied woman discussing a problem that will never affect me the way it affects the daily lives of the BIPOC community. This problem also extends beyond race with topics such as age, gender, gender identity, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, and weight. While the issue is all-encompassing, the solutions are not. To solve a problem, you need to impart specific changes that will uplift those discriminated against.
So instead of trying to solve all of these problems with one article, consciously research the teachings of the groups you unknowingly oppress. When you are done here, I urge you to do more research and seek out these underrepresented voices to truly do the work in removing unconscious bias.
What is Unconscious Bias?
Bias is defined by the University of San Francisco Office of Diversity and Outreach as “a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair.”
Bias comes in two forms
- Conscious bias
- Unconscious bias
Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, is defined as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness” and they are “far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values.” This can mean that although you consciously recognize certain things as racist or stereotypical, other items are ingrained so you don’t consider them as harmful.
Unconscious bias is not a new term, and it’s not contained to the workplace. One of the most notable early experiments in implicit bias is the “doll test”. Beginning with her master’s thesis at Howard University, Black female psychologist Mamie Phipps Clark developed this test to study the effects of segregation on African-American children. She refined it with her husband, and the test was later used during the Brown v. Board case arguing that separate was not indeed equal.
In the doll test, the children between ages three to seven were given four dolls which were identical aside from skin color. The children were then asked to identify the race of the dolls and which color they preferred. Most of the children said they preferred the white doll and assigned positive characteristics to it.
Unconscious bias begins from conception for most and is hugely detrimental to those it works against. As we get older, the effects of unconscious bias become only more dangerous. A CDC study from 2019 found that “Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women…” Since most pregnancy-related deaths are preventable, and white women do not suffer at the same rate as their non-white counterparts, the unfortunate conclusion is racial bias.
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Learning about the dangers of systemic racism often leads people to ask: What can I do personally to make a difference?
Layla Saad, an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman living in Qatar, came up with an impressive answer — a 28-day process that she calls a "personal anti-racism tool" designed to teach those with white privilege how systemic racism works and how they can stop contributing to white supremacy in the world. More about her work through our link in bio (Illustration: Therrious Davis @therrothekid for NPR)
This is obviously an extreme example of more conscious bias, but in many ways, the leap between conscious and unconscious bias is much smaller than you may think. According to an article by Black Demographics, the U.S. Census Bureau found that “23% of all African American men, women and children live below the poverty level compared to just 13% of all Americans”. The Black community makes up only 13% of the total American population, yet almost a quarter of them live in poverty.
In one study, The National Bureau of Economic Research found that job applicants with Black sounding names were 50% less likely to get callbacks than those with white-sounding names despite identical resumes. In another study it was found that employers were more likely to call white applicants with a criminal record than Black applicants without one, proving that race had more of a negative impact than a felony.
In addition, a study by a Yale student reported that, given identical resumes, science professors were more likely to offer mentorships to the one with the name “John” at the top versus “Jennifer”.
The fact that women and people of color are consistently discriminated against based on bias and misinformed bias alone proves how harmful these actions are in the long run. The responsibility of employers to eradicate such implicit biases is urgent, so let’s do better starting right now.
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This is important:⠀ My video is not the last step. For many, it is the first. ⠀ ⠀ For those of you who felt disempowered.⠀ For those of you who felt you couldn’t fight or were too small to make a difference. ⠀ For those of you who thought, “I’m not black so there’s nothing I can do.”⠀ ⠀ Now you know. ⠀ ⠀ That was some BS. ⠀ What you do with that information is critical.⠀ You need intention, you need information, you need strategy.⠀ ⠀ Continue to learn from leaders who can equip you with the TOOLS. ⠀ Becoming an ally is a practice. No arrogance. No pouring of guilt onto us. No disengaging. ⠀ This is the work. Channel that energy into action. ⠀ ⠀ I am learning from these incredible women, I suggest you introduce yourself to them as well. ⠀ ⠀ @rachel.cargle⠀ ⠀ @tamikadmallory ⠀ ⠀ @mspackyetti⠀ ⠀ @blairimani ⠀ ⠀ @moemotivate ⠀ ⠀ #sharethiswithyoursquad Cover art by @precious.lord
How to Remove Unconscious Bias
1. Talk to BIPOC Employees
Have open and honest discussions with your BIPOC staff. This includes every level of employee, from janitorial staff to salaried workers and marketing heads. You can’t know what is considered oppression if you are not on the receiving end. Many practices and sayings that seem commonplace may be offensive. It is very easy for unconscious bias to flourish in the silence. Talk to your BIPOC peers at work and see if you are both being treated equally and held to the same standards. Are you being paid the same for the same work? Are your BIPOC counterparts expected to do more free labor or “quick tasks” outside of their job description?
A huge pay disparity among writers was revealed in the publishing industry through the Twitter hashtag #PublishingPaidMe. The movement was started by author L.L. McKinney to expose racial bias in the publishing industry. White authors were consistently paid larger advances regardless of their experience level or reputation. Three-time Hugo Award winner N.K. Jemison broke down why this bias is so harmful to authors.
And *yeah,* racism has an impact on that confidence. In a racist industry trying to sell books to a racist public within a racist society? Come on. Implicit bias alone will make negotiations harder. There are overtly biased gatekeepers, too. Racist. Voltron.
— N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin) June 7, 2020
If you manage a team or company, talk to your employees to root out systemic forms of oppression within the company which you can remedy.
2. Equalize the division of power
So many issues that come about from unconscious bias could be eradicated if BIPOC held leadership positions from which they could speak out. It’s not surprising that unconscious bias continues within the workplace when BIPOC are afraid to speak up. Having a truly diverse board of leaders allows for negative bias to be caught at the decision making source. An article on this topic from The Guardian states, “…at the individual level, the extent to which such biases are internalised and acted on varies widely and in complex ways. Life experience, such as dating outside your racial group or having a boss from a minority group, can strongly protect against holding negative stereotypes.”
In the book The Hollywood Jim Crow: The Racial Politics of the Movie Industry, Maryann Erigha outlines the disproportionate amount of non-white to white directors in Hollywood from major production companies. These statistics were compiled from the films released between 2000-2016.
|Distibutor||% Black||% White||% Racial Minority||# of films produced|
|20th Century Fox||5||87||8||239|
Recruiting people of all gender identities, sexualities, religions, races, and cultures fosters a diverse environment that can be free from unconscious bias by virtue of the people making the decisions at a leadership level.
3. Examine HR policies
Layla F. Saad explains that there is wording that is ubiquitous in most “HR policies, explicit and implicit, that tone police and marginalize employees who are BIPOC.” This can include flagging African American Vernacular English (AAVE) as inappropriate or “ghetto”, yet allowing offensive language from white and high ranking staff to go without repercussions. Dress code and hair policies which call for hairstyles damaging to different hair textures are also forms of oppression. Forcing everyone to straighten or curl their hair if it is long or to wear it cut close discriminates against protective hairstyles such as braids or cultural styles like dreadlocks.
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British Vogue hit me up and asked me to write an article on how the beauty industry can help bring about positive social change. So I put together a seven-step guide for how brands can get started without being appropriative or performative. This is by no means an exhaustive list, allyship really is endless and can be as individualized as your privilege or platform. Hope this helps and thank you @britishvogue for always being so supportive. Link the article in my stories. Photography @lukenugentphotography Makeup @biancaspencermua Hair @cipher_co
4. Diversify your brand
Representation is immensely important in the world of social media. Whether you follow an account, run an account, or represent a brand on your account, everyone participates in social media marketing. As a company, campaign with diverse influencers and examine the demographic you market to. Are you subscribing to or elevating only white European beauty standards such as straight hair and lighter skin? Do you share more than just white news and stories? Do you uplift the successes of non-white influencers? How many non-white influencers do you employ? How many do you follow?
Our Vlogger Friends are chosen based on engagement, following & content. We maintain a family-friendly appearance, so we do not sign on applicants who swear/post explicit content. Diversity is important and we have been looking to round out our team with qualified men & women.
— Book Outlet (@BookOutletcom) June 3, 2020
Above all, make sure you don’t tokenize your non-white employees. This harmful practice is just one form of optical allyship, and it is never excusable. Compensate equally for the work that is done, and recruit evenly among different demographics. Social media is an endless fount of diverse, creative people you can partner with on campaigns.
WOW. Please respond to my email. I’d like to terminate my contract immediately. When I became a Vlogger friend my channel was SMALL, I could barely afford books. And if maintaining a “family-friendly” appearance means “WHITE” I’m out. Not your token black girl. Do better. https://t.co/zBfSk5Jv5s
— Naya perkins (@Nayasmilesforu) June 3, 2020
As an influencer with any type of privilege, specifically white privilege, make sure you do the research before partnering with a brand. Influencer marketing brings in a ton of revenue for companies, so you hold more power than you think to enforce diversity and equity.
5. Make Internships Accessible to Everyone
The average cost of living in a big city, like NYC, is upwards of 54 grand a year. Lower-income families, of which people of color make up the majority, are unable to attain these opportunities for which they are equally qualified because they cannot afford it. Unpaid internships mean you only bring in people of a certain class or higher who can support themselves while undertaking an unpaid internship. This bars a significant portion of applicants from low-income backgrounds, thus forming an unconscious bias.
These are just some of the many ways in which unconscious bias manifests. There are more solutions to various issues the harder you look, and the more open you are to criticism and actionable change, the more permanent these solutions will be.