Unconscious Bias | What is "The Work"
The 2020 murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd seem so far behind us. And yet, there is still work to be done. But what is the work that needs to happen? As a Christ-centered antiracism educator, I often get asked, “What is ‘The Work’?” This series will tackle some of the specifics we mean when you are asked to do “The Work”
"...and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ." (2 Cor 10:5, NET)
Let’s start where I usually start: definitions. Unconscious (or implicit) bias are the attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes that lead to control our behavior.
One thing to note about this definition: There is no mention of racism! Read it again, if you don’t believe me! Implicit biases are not always negative, and they are NOT always about others. We have implicit biases about ourselves, as well. It manifests itself in the internal narrative we have about ourselves.
Our brains have 2 “modes”: conscious and unconscious. When reading this blog, you are most likely using your conscious brain to look at the funny characters on the screen called “letters” and make meaning of them. While you may not have to think too hard about the process of recognizing the letters, stringing them into phonetic sounds and words, then to sentences and paragraphs, your brain still has to do all of that. If we let that process slip too far into our unconscious mind, we start to lose vital pieces of information.
Our unconscious brain is actually what rules most of our day. It keeps our hearts beating, our breathing consistent, and keeps our bodies running as smoothly as possible. It’s what triggers us to cough or sneeze when we need to, and pulls our hand out of the fire before we even realize it’s there. We aren’t aware of many of those things most of the time, and that’s a good thing! Until our brains start to play tricks on us.
Just as you can sometimes stifle a cough or sneeze if you feel them coming on, you can catch your bias before it impacts your actions.
Implicit bias lives in our unconscious mind. As mentioned above, implicit bias can control our behavior if we don’t know what’s happening! Just as you can sometimes stifle a cough or sneeze if you feel them coming on, you can catch your bias before it impacts your actions.
In 2 Corinthians, Paul tells his readers to “take captive every thought, to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5, NIV). The conscious thoughts are easy to examine, but the unconscious ones take some practice. How do we start this practice of making our thoughts obedient to Christ?
The basis of meditation is simply paying active attention to your breathing. The goal isn’t necessarily to “clear” your mind, but rather let your thoughts and emotions flow in and out without judgement. When you can let your thoughts exist without judging them, you can examine them with a clearer mind. If your thought is unhelpful, reframe it with some truth.
Listen to your melanated friends when they tell you that something you said or did was harmful. Watch your own emotions and reactions, and try to keep them out of the moment. Then, as above, examine your emotions and the thoughts behind them. Reframe as necessary.
Another way to slow down and notice your thoughts. Examine. Reframe. Rinse. Repeat.
The biggest piece of this is that we need to forgive ourselves (and each other, my melanated friends) when we mess up.
What else do you want to know about the Work of antiracism?