9/22/2018 – On Implicit Bias

This week a neighbor hired me to do headshots for himself and his business partner. I told my sister about the shoot, expressing some jitters around posing and directing two men in familiar but not-too-familiar ways. It’s something I’ve never done before and I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like.

And I still don’t know what that would look like because the business partner is a woman.

That right there, is implicit bias. I was never told the gender of the business partner and so, based on everything my brain contains about who business partners are and what they are like, I made the assumption that this man’s business partner was also male. Somewhere deep down in my brain lies the belief that business partners are male because that’s what I was told or that’s what I saw. A little pocket of sexism residin’ up in my noggin. I probably won’t make that same mistake again, but there will be others because noticing this addresses the branch but it doesn’t eliminate the root.

I first heard the term Implicit Bias when I began reading and learning about race relations in America. My studies had helped me to see slivers and cords of racism manifested by people I know and care about, and I didn’t know how to reconcile the overall character of the person with the things they said about other people based on where they were from or the color of their skin. Implicit Bias doesn’t excuse these harmful statements and acts, but it does give us a starting point for the Why.

Why? Because we are all a complicated byproduct of our upbringing and surroundings. We start absorbing as babies and it never stops. The work to identify and address our personal implicit biases is difficult because we generally don’t know they are there until we are forced to confront them head-on. And it’s hard to be honest about these parts of ourselves that we don’t like. I am carrying around elements of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all sorts of other -isms and -ias. I don’t like this, but they will never be addressed through denial or whitewashing.

If I had let shame and guilt take the reigns I wouldn’t have been able to be honest with myself about what this was. Be willing to be honest with yourself about yourself. If you’ve said or done something harmful and now you recognize it, stop. Apologize if you have someone to apologize to. And then make clear to yourself what you did in the past, why you didn’t like it, and how you’re going to change in the future. This is good work, the kind that grates as you go through it but makes you feel strong and improved on the other side. I’ll show you what it looks like.

Past: When a client referred to their business partner I assumed the business partner was male.

Why I dislike this: It felt diminishing for that woman specifically, and for all women. It indicates that when a certain job needs to be done, I unconsciously fill in that role with a male. Imagine if I was in a position to procure talent for a specific position, I don’t want to be defaulting to male to make the candidate fit my preconceived notions.

Future: I believe writing this post will be enough to help me adjust my thinking in the future. I might not be able to stop the thought from bubbling up, but I can catch it and address it much faster next time.

4 Comments

  1. Take the “reins”. Like horse reins.
    It’s not bias to think the other partner might be male—it’s an assumption, but there’s not malice attributed to that assumption. Preconceived ideas, based on previous patterns of behavior, are limiting but not necessarily harmfu or malicious.

    Reply

    1. That’s the trick with implicit bias! The implicit part means you can’t take the reins until you clearly what’s happening (then it isn’t implicit anymore). As long as we don’t act on our assumptions/notions/biases etc, I agree they won’t be harmful or malicious. That kind of self-awareness is a muscle that builds up over time.

      Reply

  2. Considering that they’re business partners, don’t you have the problem of how to post them in familiar but not “relationshippy” ways regardless of their respective genders?

    Reply

    1. A little bit. But the difference in height/form/presentation make it a little bit easier with opposing gender presentations. Her clothing, her poses, her presentation were all a little bit softer and more feminine. I can use that to play off of his more masculine clothing/poses/presentation. But it was a challenge!

      Reply

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