For too long, people have let others and themselves down by applying biases to an individual, group, or situation without considering the consequences. Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak, the world has been continuing in a state of chaotic isolation, to say the least. Now, more than ever, it is crucial to think before we share. While people are stuck at home, tensions are running high. Practicing mindfulness and avoiding being impulsive when communicating or sharing is beneficial to all in a time where we’re all going a bit stir crazy.
A bias is a “tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone.” Some biases are based on facts — such as avoiding junk foods, or brushing your teeth. However, biases are often based on stereotypes, rather than actual information about a person or situation. These stereotypes include numerous categories, including race, gender, sexuality, and physical features. People may consciously or unconsciously hold biases.
Jennifer Eberhardt, Stanford University social psychologist and NAS member conducted an experiment to ponder the effects of racial bias earlier in life. Eberhardt gave teachers a file for a student named Greg (stereotypically a white name) and Darnell (stereotypically a black name) and found that teachers interpretted two “disruptive incidents as unrelated” for Greg, but “as a pattern of misbehavior that needed to be shut down” for Darnell.
Cognitive biases are “repeated patterns of thinking” that result in “inaccurate or unreasonable conclusions.” Cognitive biases support individuals on a time crunch to evaluate someone or something. For example, confirmation bias describes the mental practice of ignoring the facts going against beliefs. Meanwhile, attribution bias describes the attempt to provide reasoning to the actions of others “without concrete evidence.”
- a lack of time: we don’t have time to think things through
- our tendency to use subjective over objective standards
- our bias is generated by an emotional state: fear
- we accept the cultural norms of the groups around us (also known as peer pressure)
Implicit bias, otherwise known as unconscious bias, refers to when people act on their “prejudice and stereotypes without intending to do so.” Implicit bias is the bias that even the most sane and reasonable people struggle with. An individual who believes in certain ideas, such as feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, or bipartisanship may mess up, because…..no one’s perfect and all too often, people are influenced by the cultural norms surrounding them. One anonymous sophomore student details her experience with bias in the American educational system: “People are constantly so critical of others in the educational system…it’s not morally right to make fun of [students] and [create] stupid stereotypes for hardworking people…I feel like people don’t pay attention to those that work hard and use race or their parents as an excuse for their success….I would appreciate more people enforcing kindness. When I took [physical education] and health over the summer, people were rude and told me I was just doing it for my GPA and I signed up to make room for courses that I actually wanted to take freshmen year. And when I took AP statistics this year, so many people told me I wasn’t “smart enough” to double up on maths. I’m perfectly content with not having straight A’s and I genuinely enjoy math. I’m not trying to flex…but people told me…my GPA would go down. I think people need to get rid of stupid stereotypes and the generalizing of a group of people from [experiences with] just one person.”
People are often unaware of or avoid the consequences of their inherent biases. It can be hard to let go of how you have learned to think — but this is separate from the ability to, well….not say anything if it is not necessary. The above opinions this student received from fellow students were unwanted and problematic in that they set up toxic expectations for her future due to the decisions she had happily made for herself.
Back in 2017, in the build up to the Victoria’s Secret fashion show held in Shanghai, model Gigi Hadid was shown in a viral video squinting her eyes to match the expression of a Buddha’s face imprinted on a cookie. Gigi Hadid apologized profusely: “it was never my intent to offend anyone through my actions.” But the damage was done. Fans protested her presence in the Shanghai Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
Recently, famous YouTuber Lilly Singh launched her late night show, “A Little Late with Lilly Singh.” In one particular episode, two girls met Lilly with towels wrapped around their heads as they had previously washed their hair. Lilly commented: “They look like my Punjabi friends. It’s fine.” Later, Singh apologized, saying “…I stupidly made a comparison about turbans that I’d like to apologize for…In the moment, my thought process was ‘don’t be embarrassed! I think that’s dope.’ But in hindsight I recognize that was a disrespectful and problematic joke to make that has a lot of painful history behind it. And I’m very sorry.”
With so much power wielded from social media, no matter who you are, it is easy to get thoughts out without filtering them. But people get hurt. It does not matter if you are an completely unknown high schooler or Gigi Hadid, making a face or saying something offensive, racist, and/or bias-heavy has a lasting impact on your audience. But I will admit, so far, people seem to be doing well in this global pandemic and under the constant invite to comment on everything that appears on social media. I see streams of Instagram posts spreading the positive themes of self-care, thanking any workers on the front lines (clapping!), parents growing as parents, teenagers my age growing as young people of the future. We must continue to keep ugly bias in check. Let’s keep up the streak we have so far of self-love, love in general, and growth as humans. Air high-five!