Book Report: Blind Spot

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Hooray, it’s time for another in my series of reviews of books on unconscious bias. I had to give this one five stars, because I learned so dang much from Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, by the thoughtful, introspective, and extra-scientific duo Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald (Tony) (2013). I’m not sure why, but even though the conclusion of the book is that it’s pretty much ingrained in us to be biased, and we can’t stop it, I felt encouraged in the end.

It’s worth reading!

First of all, I just want to go shake the hands of the authors, who you really get to know while reading Blind Spot, because they very openly share their own experiences and reactions to research. They speak as one, but refer to each other in the third person, like “Mahzarin is hard on herself because of this,” or “Tony can’t keep from shaking his head” when they want to stress individual experiences. I enjoyed that technique.

Also these two are extra famous in their field. They INVENTED the IAT Test (Implicit Association Test, found on the Project Implicit website) that is used around the world to measure unconscious bias in all sorts of respects (racial, gender, age, religion, etc.). They are also amazing researchers in social psychology and back up everything they say with lots of data. In fact, about a third of the book consists of fascinating appendixes, like “Is America Racist?” that answered a lot of my questions on this topic.

Stereotypes applied to me.

It’s a lot of fun to read Blind Spot, especially if you go and take the tests when prompted. You get a real education in your own biases, and when it turns out you exhibit a white = good bias, you feel a little better when the authors admit they have it, too, and repeatedly taking the tests even when they KNOW what it’s testing didn’t change the results. You can’t change what’s hard-wired in your brain, but you CAN work to mitigate it.

And that’s what fascinated me. After the authors painstakingly show how many biases we share (and that many groups show bias against themselves, thanks to the society they grow up in), they do talk about how things HAVE changed. The data is showing that younger people exhibit markedly less of the stereotyped biases than did their grandparents.

I was really interested in the research that showed how early babies learn to distinguish their own cultural group from another, showing preferences for their mother’s race VERY early. What gave me hope? Exposure to other races when very young strongly lessened future bias. HUH!

Another thing that Blind Spot goes over is that we need our stereotypes so that we can function in society. We have to be able to make decisions quickly, and going on past experience is actually very helpful much of the time. They talked about how you may have stereotypes about women, blacks, Muslim, professors, and lesbians, for example. That will lump large groups of people into one generic type. But, if you picture one person with all those traits, you would end up picturing someone much more distinctive.

It appears that I could go on at length, but I don’t want to tell you everything that’s in this book. I want you to read it, think critically about its findings, and see if that changes your perceptions of the people around you or changes your actions. I know I feel like I know my fellow humans better, understand more about how they get to be the way they are, and feel more likely to cut people some slack, including myself. Lots and lots of GOOD people, who are trying to do the right things, consciously, are dealing with unconscious biases they can’t do a darned thing about except acknowledge them and make an effort to mitigate them.

Who knows, maybe we CAN find peace!

That’s probably most of my own friends and family, including me. How about you?

Book Report: Biased

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s time for another in my series of book reports on unconscious bias. This one’s a little different from the previous ones, because it covers mostly just one racial bias, the one against Black people, particularly in the USA. Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, was written by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Ph.D., who’s spent her entire career studying this type of bias, and has worked extensively with many police departments to help diminish this kind of behavior within their work. The book came out in 2020, so has recent statistics and analysis, which is always something I enjoy.

Eberhardt shares many stories from her own experience, not only as a researcher, but as a Black woman and mother to Black male children. Her stories about her sons and their experiences, her own experiences in school, and the people she’s encountered during her lecture tours and workshops with police officers are quite eye-opening and add strong punctuation to the data and other information she presents.

I truly appreciated her honesty as she talked about progress and setbacks in racial bias throughout our recent history. She makes it very clear that we have a LONG way to go before people can eliminate this bias, even when they very much want to do so. Data she presents about how people associate Black people with apes without even knowing it disturbed me greatly. And when she presented evidence that the stereotypes and biases are just as present in Black people as in others, I really got to understand that this is a hard, hard issue with no easy solutions.

Eberhardt even comes out and exhorts readers to not be too discouraged, because at least we are now learning exactly what we’re up against.

I learned some facts about how Asians are being treated, both in the US and Europe, and I now understand the pressures many of my children’s classmates dealt with. Even if she didn’t devote as many pages to biases against Asians, Hispanics, and women, she shared enough to get me thinking. It’s just as hard to live up to certain expectations as to rise above negative stereotypes! The few paragraphs on smart women explained a lot of my past experiences.

Sometimes I learned new things from Biased that I wish I hadn’t learned, such as that many “minority” job candidates “whiten up” their resumes, so that prospective employers don’t apply stereotypes. For example, Chinese people put their American nickname on their resume, or Black people just use initials (women do this, too). And they scrub activities that give away their ethnicity. SHEESH! I now see why blind resumes are NOT such a bad idea after all.

I’ll conclude that if you are interested in learning more about racial bias, this book will keep you both engrossed and saddened. But, we need to learn the hard facts of just how much our unconscious biases are ingrained in us before we can work to lessen them consciously. I think it’s worth it.

If you’ve read this book, feel free to share your reactions to it!


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What I’m NOT Doing between Now and November

Lately, a lot of my friends and other contacts have been publicly inviting people who disagree with their choice of candidates, platforms, or political parties to “unfriend me now!” I can empathize with what prompts such declarations. You get tired of being called ignorant, or sheep, or whatever, by people you thought cared for you, and who you care(d) about. Or you get tired of those one or two people who sniff out any tiny whiff of partisanship on your part and then blast your friends with the tenacity of a dog with a bone.

Let me tell you ONE more time why I think you’re wrong…gnaw gnaw. Image by @9_fingers_ via Twenty20

Now, I have some pretty strong beliefs on political, social, and religious grounds, and I am not ashamed of them, so I’m not going to succumb to fear and never be who I am in social media. If they come and round me up later for expressing my beliefs, well, I will have led a good and consistent life, and I’ll deal with the consequences.

I don’t think it’s helping one bit to egg people on and act like the stereotype you’re trying to deny you’re a part of, though. So, here’s what I plan to do between now and the beginning of November, which is a big election time in the US (some of you may not know; the US isn’t the most important place for everyone on earth, I’m told).

I’m also going to spend a lot more time looking at nature, like this extra cool Apache jumping spider.

I’m not going to remove from my social media accounts all my friends, coworkers, business contacts, and family members who express their affiliation with a different candidate than the one I favor. Believe it or not, I find that I do have other things in common with them, or like them for other reasons. It’s possible if your mindset isn’t that, “Every Party X member is a doofus.” (I will point out that yes, some Party X members are doofuses; some party Y and Z members are ALSO doofuses.)

Right? Image by  @desteniev via Twenty20.

I will “snooze” some folks on Facebook if something they say upsets me, but I won’t un-follow, unfriend, or whatever, unless someone comes across as genuinely dangerous or unhinged. So, yeah, if you threaten to kill me or people I love, I might put some distance between us. That’s just common sense.

I’m not going to waste my breath and time trying to “educate” or chastise people who say things I disagree with or find mildly offensive in response to comments on other people’s Facebook posts, tweets, or Instagrams. I have learned that’s how you (along wity people like yourself) earn bad reputations with other groups. I see it enough in comments on my own posts, and know how damned hard it can be not to respond (I do fail at times). Just go vote, folks, and realize most others have already made up their minds.

A good plan. Image by @MargJohnsonVA via Twenty20

If I share memes, I’m going to try to make it the constructive and encouraging kind, not the kind that puts down others. I have friends who share some real doozies that I enjoy, because I’m human, but every time I’ve even slightly hinted that some other bunch of folks might not have the right idea about something, I end up feeling bad about doing it. I guess I’m pretty firm that passive-aggressive memes serve more to make the person sharing them look bad than to shame the intended audience.

Slightly off topic, but hey, it’s my blog:

Honestly, I don’t need any help to know I’ve been a bad friend or done some things I shouldn’t have that won’t be forgiven or forgotten. I’m trying to forgive my own dang self and learn from the mistakes, so rubbing my nose in it just makes me resentful, not a better person. I wonder if all the nameless people so many accusatory memes are aimed at feel that way, too, if they see themselves in the words, of course. Targeted memes (personal or political) probably mostly miss the intended audience.

Also off topic: I did finally get a photo of the green heron!

Back on track

Anyway, another thing I’m going to do in social media and in person between now and November is be friendly to everybody I run across. I can find something neutral or positive to talk to just about anyone about, and that is what helps us all remember there’s good in everyone. Engaging with the people around me is one concrete thing I can do to help heal the divisiveness and partisan negativity we seem so mired in these days.

We’re all just chickens, say Springsteen and Patty.

I know I’m not alone in seeing people as fellow humans first, and labels second. It’s easy to disparage a faceless group, but one on one, it’s a lot harder. I am glad to have people around me who are great role models in this way of interacting, and yes, some of the best ones do not agree with all of my political and social views. When I’m feeling frustrated, I think of all the hard-working and thoughtful people I know who are trying to make the world better by working with each other. Thanks to everyone who helps with that!

How about you, are you up for trying any of the things I’m going to try to do for the next couple of months? If you’re not, what is your plan for dealing with the challenges of the pre-election period? What’s working for you?

Let’s talk!