Students Sitting on StepsMedia coverage of numerous events involving police shootings of innocent African Americans has spurred the nation to consider the biases we hold. Every person holds assumptions. Simply living in a set culture, individuals take on behaviors and associations that are prevelant in the society. Sometimes these associations are helpful and sometimes they are not.

Examples that call out our implicit bias are showing up all over social media. I recently saw a social media post that described showing 3 cartoon pictures of 10 year old boys to a group of school kids. One cartoon pictured an overweight boy, one was thin with glasses, and the last was able bodied and dressed in trendy clothing. The school children labeled the boys. The overweight one they called ‘lazy,’ the thin boy was the ‘nerd’ or ‘smart’ and the final boy was ‘popular.’ The next day, there was a post that took loved ones and dressed them like they were homeless and placed them on the street. Their own family members walked right by and didn’t acknowledge their existence. These were spouses, siblings, best friends who were ignored because their look was changed and they were placed in a different context.

Bias against race/ethnicity, age, gender, size, ability, sexual orientation are all likely present in each of us and can influence our day to day actions. As a pediatrician, if I hold a strong size bias that my overweight patients are ‘lazy’ I miss the opportunity to applaud the activities they may be participating in and encourage healthy lifestyle. If a teacher holds a strong bias that all Asian females are ‘smart’ s/he may miss the student who is struggling to read.

My aim with this post is not to make any individual feel shame, but to increase awareness of the stereotypes we hold. Awareness allows us to behave differently towards people. We can increase our empathy for the struggles of those who are being sterotyped and recognize when our own actions or opinions are secondary to assumptions and not facts. In the cases of the shootings I mentioned at the beginning of this post, awareness of implicit bias could have saved lives.

Project Implicit is a multi-university study that aims to increase awareness of implicit bias. Their website offers quick (and engaging) tests of bias. I’ve taken a few and the results surprised me. Here’s the link to the site. I encourage readers and their teens to try some of the demos and discuss your results with each other.

Read more about implicit bias here:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/