Healing Requires Honesty
It’s time for a shift in the way we talk about racial bias. I want to challenge us to be more courageous and maximize the moment. We need to move beyond using unconscious bias as a default for classifying incidents of racial bias. I know this will ruffle some feathers. To show you that I’m willing to take my own advice, I’m issuing this challenge even though I used the default in a former article on Anti-Blackness. If we’re serious about uprooting racism and Anti-Black racism during this revolution, then we must speak truth to power. Racial healing requires raising our consciousness past the age-old intent v. impact debate generated with the unconscious bias narrative. If companies are stepping up to the challenge to disrupt systemic racism, then we must also examine our individual choices.
Why the bias isn’t so unconscious
Harvard’s Project Implicit Bias defines implicit bias as a preference based on associations that develop in one’s unconscious awareness and “that may even be contradictory to what one consciously believes.” They argue this implicit process releases a person’s preferences from being deemed prejudice. I’m challenged by this rationale because most examples of unconscious racial bias involve people using their consciousness to select preferences based in White racial norms. It is possible for a non-racist person to perpetuate racist mindsets and behaviors. Here’s how we see it happen everyday:
- preferencing White women to fill diversity board seats instead of people of color
- choosing to take another elevator because an Arab man will ride alone with you
- promoting a White U.S. born male for a client-facing role versus the Latino male with English as his second language (rationale: clients may misunderstand him).
- suspending Black girls in schools at a higher rate than other kids
In each example, when confronted, most people usually say, I am not racist. “I don’t see color” and “I treat everyone the same” become common reframes to prove their inability to exhibit racist behaviors. If we’re honest, in each case, the person consciously discriminated against people of color based on a set of individual racial preferences. Some might argue that these examples affirm two types of unconscious bias, confirmation bias and affinity bias. Maybe I’m stating the obvious BUT for something to be confirmed or for someone to have affinity, you have to make an intentional comparison. Until we stop dancing around White fragility, we won’t be able to speak the truth in love and disrupt these toxic behaviors. Unless unconscious bias is explained as an entry point to addressing racism, as suggested by Benson and Fiarman, we run the risk of inflicting more harm than good. If we know in our hearts-of-hearts, that these are conscious acts of racial bias, then WHY do we keep using this term? Why do we continue to sugarcoat racism to make White people and people of color that collude with racism feel comfortable about participating in racist behaviors? Every time we perpetuate this lie, we keep racism alive and give explicit racial bias the “unconscious bias” pass that cheats our friends, family, and colleagues from rising to live as the highest version of themselves. We are at a unique point in history where White people want to know their bias and are craving to learn how to disrupt it, we should capitalize on this moment by being more direct.
Why we need to speak truth to power
The truth sets us free. If there’s one thing we’ve learned during this revolution: the US can no longer run from its original sin of racism. From the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Andres Guardado, to the recent setting of a Black woman on fire in Madison, Wisconsin, we need to heighten our urgency to deal with the domestic terrorism against people of color. Racial bias leads to catastrophic and sometimes deadly consequences. These acts steal people’s lives, dreams, and sanity. If we don’t tell the truth, we will continue to pour salt into an open wound for people of color. We will continue to weave the webs that hold racism together, becoming the fabric of our individual, cultural, and systemic experiences. When we immediately dismiss racial bias as implicit because a person claims that they do not believe they’re capable of committing a racist act, we fall into the intent v. impact dynamic. As I tell my clients, if we spend the bulk of the time explaining away the intention, the perpetrator misses the learning opportunity and we continue to harm the person that survived the racial bias. When we fail to tell the truth, we miss a chance to tell those closest to us that racism lives within them and is causing them to consciously betray their core values.
If we say we love humanity and justice, then we cannot be complicit to mindsets and behaviors used to oppress people of color. Dismantling racism means we validate people of color’s lived experiences and disrupt the current practice of asking them to write a dissertation to prove that racial bias occurred. It’s hard for racial healing to occur when the conversations begin in denial and remain rooted in it.
Racial healing begins with making a choice
We always have power and choice. It’s up to us to decide if we want to use them. In each moment you can choose to disrupt or maintain the status quo of labeling intentional acts of racism as unconscious bias. If we want to create a racially just world, then we must be honest about the ways racism shows up in our lives. We saw an example of this when L’Oréal publicly recanted and sought to repair the racial harm done to model Munroe Bergdorf. To support my request to become more brave in our quest for racial healing, I want to end with a resource. I offer my four-step consciousness-raising process™ as a tool for disrupting racial bias from three vantage points.
4-Step Consciousness-Raising Tool for Interrupting Racial Bias
I start all of my work with power and choice because it is the precursor to bold action. Change starts with making a choice to trust yourself and believing that you’re capable of trying your best solution in the moment. This act of love silences fear and doubt and channels bravery to disrupt racism.
- Choice: Choose to believe that you are capable and trust yourself enough to speak out against racial bias.
- Presence: Be ready to slow down and seize the moment.
- Self-awareness: Go inward and ask why am I bothered by what I just witnessed? What in your spirit led you to believe that racial bias occurred? How can my honesty help heal both the perpetrator and survivor?
- Intentionality: Trust yourself enough to take the greatest act of love and speak up. Check in on the survivor: Affirm their experience and ask what you can do to support them. Inform them of your plans to speak to the perpetrator.
- Share with the perpetrator: I’ve known you to be a fair person but ______ action mimicked racial bias in _______ way and ________ was the impact on me and how I saw ________ react. I want to learn more about what prompted this behavior and how we can learn from each other and repair the harm done to _________. For speaking up in the moment, view this example.
For survivors of bias:
- Choice: Choose to believe yourself. You are not insane. Trust yourself and your spirit. You experienced racial bias and I know it hurts. You were treated unfairly and it’s not okay.
- Presence: Slow down and check-in with yourself. Take time to tend to yourself. You do not have to ignore the incident or act like business as usual.
- Self-awareness: Ask yourself what am I feeling? What happened? What do I need to feel comfortable again? What was the injustice I experienced? What do I need to heal?
- Intentionality: Decide if you want to speak up. It’s okay to take time to make that decision. This is an act of courage and vulnerability. If you choose to report it or speak up, you can use this framing:
- Situation (describe what happened), Behavior (describe the biased behavior), Impact (describe the impact on you). Feel free to ask the person to help you to understand what warranted their behavior as well as share your boundaries for reconciliation. Whether you chose to speak up or not, know that you do not need another person to validate your experience, believe in your truth. For speaking up in the moment, view this example.
- Choice: I believe you can change if you want to. You have to choose to release the fear and let love win. Make the choice to trust the truth of the impact of your racially biased behavior. One action does not make you a racist. Learning how you perpetuate racism is the first step to detoxifying it from your life.
- Presence: Slow down and honor everyone’s humanity. Check in with yourself. Be honest and admit your mistake. Sit with it and know that you have the power to make amends and seek reconciliation.
- Self-awareness: Ask yourself what am I feeling? What did I do? What mindset led me to behave this way? Where did the mindset come from? How did my actions hurt ______ person? How did this action betray my values? Why is it important for me to lean into the discomfort and learn from the survivor?
- Intentionality: Decide to repent and heal. Make amends with yourself for betraying your values. Make amends and apologize to those you hurt. Inquire about the impact of your actions. Seek reconciliation by asking how you can repair the harm. Be prepared to hear what they have to say and be ready with your own ideas for reconciliation. This is an act of courage and vulnerability. Taking this step will help you learn how to use your power to unlearn racist behaviors. You may also need to enroll in additional learning opportunities to expand your awareness. Rest in this: everytime you accept responsibility and change, you cut the web of racism.
In the words of our living civil rights shero, Dolores Huerta, Sí se puede! I believe we can dismantle the web woven by acts of racial bias. It starts with everyone using their power and choice to speak and honor the truth. Each of our acts creates the ripple needed to uproot racism. As bell hooks eloquently challenged, “resistance begins with confronting pain, whether it’s yours or someone else’s and wanting to do something to change it.” Let’s continue the momentum of the current resistance by confronting the racial pain of people of color. Let’s build on the current momentum of racial healing by properly labeling racial bias. I believe this revolution is different. Let’s honor it by actually speaking truth to power.