I would like to believe that I am always in control of my subconscious, but the sad truth is that I am not. As a matter of fact, no one is always aware of their subconscious thoughts.
Unconscious bias is inevitable. It nests in the deepest valleys of our mind and is the product of a prejudice-infested world that nurtures the minds of all. It is a bully cloaked in invisibility that persistently influences our everyday actions. I can keep going, but I think you already get the idea.
Unconscious biases can come from anywhere and everywhere. Our experiences and environments continue to reinforce them, but we are often blinded and unaware of the biases we harbor.
Much research consistently supports the theory of unconscious biases, proof that we are more biased than we presume. A recent New York Times op-ed on the issue of unconscious bias included research showing that unconscious racial and gender bias systematically benefits white men.
One of the examples that stood out to me was one that employed the use of fictitious resumés and names to determine if the name on a resumé can influence how employable a person is. Resumés with stereotypical white names such as Allison, Jill, Greg, Brad and stereotypical African American names such as Ebony, Tanisha, Darnell and Tyrone were sent to various potential employers. These 24 pages of extensive research reveal the influence of unconscious bias in the labor market and shows an astonishing degree of discrimination. Their results showed that resumés with names that appeared white received 50 percent more callbacks than those that appeared African American.
In another experiment conducted by North Carolina State University, male professors claimed to be female, while female professors claimed to be male in an online course. Students taking these online courses were instructed to rate the professors on a scale of one to five. The results showed that students rated the professors they assumed to be male more highly, but when that same professor was assumed to be female, they received a much lower rating. It is possible that the students might not have even been aware of their biases while making the associations between gender and rating, but in the face of this alarming evidence of unconscious bias, policies like the affirmative action become ineffective.
No law can successfully eliminate bias. Whether male, female, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, straight, gay, lesbian, old, young … everyone to some extent is afflicted by the plague of prejudice. The tough question we all face is, what can we do about it? What we can do is acknowledge the existence of discrimination and privilege in our society, and then work toward making an effort to obliterate this discrimination by being honest with ourselves.
One cannot change all the bigots in the world, but it is possible to change one’s own biases. We have to be the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi said, so that these unconscious biases can become conscious, allowing us to address them or even crush them like annoying pests.
Kafayat Akindele ’17 firstname.lastname@example.org is from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in psychology.