How to Identify Your Prejudices and Biases
We all have innate bias and prejudice - neuroscience has been able to confirm that. For example, when we come across a stranger who is larger than us our brain automatically triggers feelings to alert us to look out for possible danger.
So we are all at the very least “sizeist” to start with.
We have no control over this feeling and process but we can work towards being in charge of how we respond - and of course respond in a way so as not to discriminate is essential.
As the extent of harm caused by injustices arising from discrimination becomes ever clearer it is therefore not surprising there is ever increasing scrutiny of peoples words and actions. To discriminate is to bully and we know that bullying is abhorrent - we also know that no one ever improves their life by being a bully. Stopping discrimination improves the lives of everyone.
We are all used to the words of famous people being analysed and judged but now we all have to be responsible for what we say and do. Social media and surveillance means we leave a trail of evidence to be analysed so thoughtless words / actions or those written / taken in anger or frustration etc can have severe consequences.
Increasingly people tell me that they are so confused by how much terminology exists now around how people are categorised that they can prefer not to engage for fear of using the wrong words. And increasingly peoples credibility is often being very publicly called into question through the lens of prejudice. This suggests that rather than the equality movement improving relations between people it can be a deterrent. So what is to be done?
I suggest that until the day comes when people are being treated equally and discrimination and prejudice no longer exists that the safest and most compassionate option is to try our hardest to adopt an attitude of willingness.
Ultimately, the problems do not come from having prejudices but from not being aware of them and if we are willing to put focus on reducing discrimination and inequality then everyone can benefit. I don’t think we generally set out to discriminate but are instead driven by the need to feel safe - that’s why we will feel drawn towards forming relationships with some people but equally feel apprehensive with other people. I think we also naturally like to succeed in our relationships with others so we will naturally engage with people who we feel we have most common ground with; ones where we feel most comfortable.
So here is a simple guide to how to identify your prejudices and what you can do about them.
Identifying your prejudices / biases
- For a week keep a diary of “categories” you have noticed - either in your face to face relations, on the tv, in the news. At this stage do not spend any time thinking about whether the “categories” should be included or not.
- At the end of the week look at your list of categories and notice what feeling/s (it might be negative or positive) comes to you with each one, then what thought (if any) follows. Write both down.
- Going through the list of feelings and thoughts put a strength against each one - use a marking scale - 1 for minimal - 10 for strong.
- When you get to the bottom go through the list again and change any that you feel need adjusting. You now have a confirmed list of you prejudices and biases.
What to do about them
- With each think about your own personal relationship with each category. Questions that might be helpful are: Have I had any situations either good or bad with someone if this category? What am I in relation to this category and what do I think and feel about this? Who do I know who identifies with this category and what do I think of them? What have I seen, read or heard about this category?
- Research! Use the internet to look up information about the categories to see how information about them corresponds with your judgements - is there any evidence that supports your thoughts and feelings? And what information is there that contradicts your views?
- Look for videos of people who identify with those categories on your list and listen to their views on the discrimination they face.
Don’t forget that favouring particular categories is as much discrimination as holding negative views and judgements!
At the end of this exercise you should now have a much sharper awareness of your prejudices and biases. You should also feel supported with information that can help when you meet someone from one of the categories on your list.