What's Tony Thinking

Bias, Implicit and Otherwise


The term “implicit bias” means those pre-judgments and stereotypes that we make and have without being aware of them. It might be called “subconscious bias.” Like we see a three young black men coming our way on the street, and even before our mind says a thing, our body is reacting with shorter breaths and tension in our shoulders.

Then there is conscious bias. These are the pre-dispositions, pre-judgments or prejudices of which we are aware. Like we meet someone who is an executive for a big oil company and assume they hate the oceans, the animals and life on planet Earth.

I recently subscribed to The Wall Street Journal newspaper. It happened this way. I got one of those notices that my accumulated miles with some airline, a puny amount, could be traded for some magazine like Cigar Afficionado or Southern Living. In other words, no magazine I wanted. But on this one, there was The Wall Street Journal as an option. I thought, why not?

Now the Journal is known as “conservative,” and by its very nature business oriented. That’s okay. While my sympathies generally run liberal, I like to hear other viewpoints.

But what I like even more is when my biases (whether “implicit” or “explicit”) are exposed and challenged. I’ve come to think of such experiences as “God moments.”

So I was reading the WSJ earlier this week, as the protests were becoming our national focal point (What happened to the Corona Virus? Remember that?) I turned to a column by their sports writer, Jason Gay. He began by apologizing. “I am the sports guy, I know. And I know some of you won’t like this. I’ll be inundated with emails telling me to ‘Stick to Sports.'” (There’s a church parallel: “Preacher, stick to religion.”)

Despite the heat Gay knew was coming he asked that his readers join him in paying attention, in listening to what black athletes were saying at this time. He then quoted one athlete after another all saying, one way or another, police unfairly targeting black people happens all the time, the fears of black parents for their children at the hands of police are real, and enough is enough. (I would link to the article but my cheapo subscription does not include access to the on-line version of the paper.)

I was stunned. Here in the Wall Street Journal I was reading, even as Trump was strutting over to St. John’s with Bible held aloft, that we need to pay attention to what black people are saying. We need to shut up and listen. And this was coming from the sports guy.

My biases were blown, shattered, left in tatters — a God moment, or as some friends like to say, a God-incidence.

Here’s another. Dwayne Johnson, aka “The Rock.” I don’t know much about “The Rock.” He was professional wrestler, turned movie star. He has a very thick neck. But there he was in a video asking, “Where are you?” The question that God asked Adam after everything had gone to hell. But The Rock was directing his question to the President. “Where are you . . . when we need you?” The remainder of his soliloquy was devoted to saying, “We need a leader. We need a compassionate leader. We need a leader who says to a hurting nation, ‘I hear you.'”

Personally, I’d say that Trump has so squandered any moral authority he might have once had that if he were to start talking like a human being and a leader at this late date, few would believe him.

But here was a pro-wrestler, action-movie guy asking for a “compassionate leader” to step up. More biases blown, shattered, left in tatters — a God moment.

What’s hard in the present time is the sides being so set, the stereotypes playing out, the biases becoming a self-fulfilling script as we march through national hell. What gives me hope are those stepping out of their assigned role, their supposed script, their pre-cast image. Stepping beyond my bias.

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