Monday, August 14, 2017

My experience of implicit bias

Those of us from minority cultures have often experienced implicit bias from others, yet also had the question, 'Was this bias, or something else? Maybe I was the problem?' We never know for sure, and we question ourselves a lot, and get fatigued by the perceived bias.

It has therefore been very freeing to discover psychologists explaining that implicit bias really is a thing. Its can also be helpful to hear other people's stories of bias, and discovering that you're not the only one experiencing it. 

For me, from a young age I experienced teachers demeaning me (the only estate kids in the class). Consequently, I believed that I was stupid. When we were taught long multiplication, I could do it in my head without any working, but when I did this in a test, I was told off for cheating. The teacher said, 'You've got all the answers right, but you don't have any working, so you must have cheated.' I couldn't tell if that was bias or not, but it felt unfair. Years later, when I did well in the 11+ exam, beating the rest of my class, I was offered a scholarship at a prestigious London school. When I told my teacher this, I was shouted at, told I was lying, and sent to the headmistress for punishment. I had many more similar experiences with teachers that I will not bore you with.

My middle class friends growing up also showed me bias. I remember one friend being stunned when I understood one his cultural references to 'The Importance of being Ernest'. Funny thing was he actually said to me, 'Of course you know what this means don't you?' and when I answered correctly. he said, 'Oh!' and looked very surprised and hurt.

In careers advice I also experienced bias. Firstly, I gave up my dream to be a barrister because I was told they would not let my sort pass the bar. When I turned to the Army, I was told I must drop my working class accent in order to become an Officer. However this was not implicit bias, this was conscious bias.

When I went onto various Universities, I regularly experienced bias. None of it was meant maliciously, but it did communicate how I didn't fully fit in. During one lecture, a professor said in front of over 100 people, 'Duncan, you really are an example of urban youth!' which was met with a roar of laughter from everyone. Even in seminary, years later, I would hear comments like, 'So how do your people sit through sermons? What do you teach them? How come you know so much?' One good brother told me how his school told his class they were in the top 1% of the country, better than people like me, and now meeting me challenged his whole paradigm. Another dear brother came to me years later, confessing that he'd had an attitude towards council estate people, but by God's grace, that changed from sitting in lectures with me. Praise God for humble brothers who admit bias.

As a disabled man, I've had a lot of dealings with medical professionals. In general, I feel like I've been talked down to, and treated as if I don't know what I'm talking about. It's hard to not think this is because they see me with my tracksuit, silver chain, tattoo, and make assumptions about my lack of scientific knowledge (prob not aware I have a BSc and have read the seminal text books on my condition).

The church scene isn't a whole lot different: When I arrived at a church as a visiting speaker, a couple of people went to complain to the pastor as I clearly wasn't the right sort. After the sermon, they came up to me, and confessed that they'd had wrong thoughts about me, and been convicted through my preaching. I have multiple similar examples I won't bore you with.

Even when dealing with Church leaders there's still bias. Again, its not malicious, sometimes its throw away comments that reveal people don't think about your culture the same way as you do. For example, 
'You shouldn't be doing a doctorate, you're one of those guys who should be out on the street doing evangelism,'
'I suppose most of your congregation are drunk a lot',
'you must homeschool because your schools are no good', 
'you've got a high chance of one of your children becoming a teenage mum',  
'you say we need more diverse leadership, but we don't want tokenism brother'
'this estate has the worst stats for ....'
These statements, said mostly by good brothers who I respect, don't massively offend me, but they do indicate their perception of my culture is different to mine. Other times, its not what's said, but the patronising way its said. I'm guessing these brothers don't recognise that they sometimes switch into a patronising mode when they talk to people in a lower class.

Now there's also been situations where I don't know for sure if there was unconscious bias at play. Once I got turned down for funding because 'the paperwork wasn't in order' (even though I followed their guidelines), once I corrected this, I got told, 'the application isn't very strong.' Which is it? Could be both? Could be bias? There's so many situations where you wonder, 'Did I get passed over for that job because of bias, or because I'm not right for the job? Did I get passed over for that opportunity because of bias, or because I'm not suitable. Does that person not like me because of bias, or because I'm a muppet? And that's the problem with bias, neither me nor you know about it, because even when it is bias, its often subconscious.

Here's a video of someone elses' interesting story about implicit bias that at places echoes my own: