It’s interesting that I’m putting bias and dialogue together today since our bias tends to inform the nature of the dialogue we have when talking about social justice issues.
Bias, paraphrased from the multiple dictionary definitions, is prejudice against one person, group, or thing in favor of another, usually with a negative connotation. They can be both conscious or unconscious, depending on how they’re learned.
Unconscious bias is something I think we have just living in a particular culture and time. These are the things we learn from those around us from the moment we’re born. These are also the hardest to recognize and work towards overcoming. Becoming more aware of our own biases and recognizing the structures that put them in place is important. For example, when I recognized my own racial bias, I thought that I wasn’t racist. Yet, there was dialogue in my head that WAS racist, even if I didn’t act on it (which, unfortunately, tended to come out in other subtle ways). One of the ways I had to work on my thinking was when I was talking about and thinking about people casually. I would specify that a person was a person of color in contexts where it wasn’t necessary. In other words, I would say something like “I saw this hot black guy today,” but if had been a white guy I would only say “I saw this hot guy today.” While I fully recognize that identifying someone’s race in many conversations is critical, the identification for something in this context brought home to me how the societal patriarchy and racism automatically assumes that white is the standard of being human.
Conscious bias is a bit easier to spot. It is something someone chooses to have a bias about, for good or ill. One only has to follow our current crop of presidential candidates to see it in action.
Bias, in all it’s forms, colors the way we talk about social justice topics. Even the writings I’m doing for this project have a bias against those with differing ideologies from myself. I’d argue that we can never get away from any of our biases, as they are completely wrapped up in our worldview (which I will be writing about later). I don’t believe that anyone, no matter how hard they try, can be truly objective. I think it’s completely impossible for a human being to do so. You just have to look at internet conversations about anything to see that.
One concept that my wife came up with is the idea of metafaith, and within this concept is the idea that everyone has their own axioms. Axioms are “[a] basic, fundamental belief that stands on its own as basic to the person holding it to be true.” (Emphasis mine.) In other words, everyone’s axioms are true because they are true to the person who believes it. Biases, I think are similar in that regard, since a lot of bias tends to be based in beliefs.
In reference to dialogue, this means that both people can be “right” in the conversation. The other important thing to remember, though, is that these axioms, like I mentioned when I talked about marginalization, are all part of the package of the person before you. They don’t change overnight, especially if it is something that has been instilled in them from an early age. I think that having meaningful dialogue is still possible, especially if we recognize the existence, and validity, of our axioms from the beginning. What I mean by that is that we need to recognize that a person’s axioms, however misguided and wrong we think they are, are important to the person who has them.
The dialogue that happens around issues of social justice, especially on the internet, are devoid of this type of thought process much of the time. Instead of actual dialogue, a high level of vitriol is hurled at the person seeming to be in the wrong. Sometimes the vitriol is way out of proportion to the supposed slight. Sometimes the anger is deserving, especially if someone is actively harming people. Fundamentally, we need to remember, in all our conversations, that we, too, are not free from bias and that we have a responsibility to recognize it in ourselves just as much as we point it out to others.