Open Your Eyes! Don't Be BLIND of BIAS! With Commentary on racial differences in the latest episode of Dance Moms
Even if you are not a fan of the Lifetime series Dance Moms, you might find this scene interesting. It is a perfect example of when people from different groups come together and can't for the life of them understand the other's perspective. In this episode, some of the mothers of the dance squad were concerned about the dance piece their children were doing entitled It's Hard to Find Good Help, a tribute to the book/film The Help. The African American and and Latina dancers were casted as the help and the White dancers were casted as the "socialites". While it was obvious that this casting was appropriate for the piece, the African American mothers were rightfully concerned about the dance not being just another stereotypical portrayal of Black people in subordinate, lower-class positions. In contrast, the White mothers could not understand why the African American mothers still felt racism was an issue in America. This a prime example when people from different groups have a hard time understanding one another, mainly due to different life experiences and lack of interacting with large numbers of people from different groups than their own. The African American mothers could not fully understand the plight of the White mothers always having to go out of their way to prove they are NOT prejudice. The White mothers could not understand the plight that the African American mothers deal with on a regular basis of being negatively stereotyped. As Holly (one of the African-American moms) said at the end when attempting to shed light on her feelings, "That is MY LIFE and MY EXPERIENCES". The more we attempt to understand the life and experiences of others, the better we will be able to empathize with them.
In Psychology, there is a concept known as ingroup bias. This is the tendency that human beings have to self segregate and prefer people like themselves. Dr. Bentley Gibson has published work (click here for article) on the development of an ingroup bias (or lack thereof) of children from multiple cultures. Her results indicate that an ingroup bias can form very early in childhood and is more common in children from high-status social groups than low-status social groups. These biases form on the playground as kids and can often end up sticking with us for life. Girls play with girls, boys play with boys, Blacks with Blacks, Whites with Whites, and so on and so forth. This can be innocent in that it is more comfortable. People tend to have more in common with those like themselves. But it can also lead to a deep misunderstanding of those from other groups and the formation of biases and prejudices that we are not aware we even have, ultimately leading to BLINDNESS to BIASES. This can be seen in many instances. Gender groups misunderstand each other, racial/ethnic groups misunderstand each other, people from different religions/faiths misunderstand each other, people from different sexual orientations misunderstand each other, etc. Just having that token ONE FRIEND from another group is not going to solve the problem. Its going to take a lot of experiences and exposure to modify a lifetime of bias formation. Unless you plan on only socializing with people like yourself for the rest of your life (and good luck with that), then it would do you well to gain awareness of the ways in which just being around those like yourself impacts your ability (or lack thereof) to understand others.
Your biases impact how you judge and behave towards others even when you don't realize it. When you don't have exposure to something or SOMEONE it can create a discomfort, particularly when you are in any type of situation with that thing or person. When people are uncomfortable, they end up doing and saying things strange things than sometimes can be misinterpreted. Often times this can lead to someone who has good intentions being perceived as prejudice. There is a lot of evidence in the Social Psychology field (see link below) showing that people often THINK they are fair and not biased, but when they take specialized psychological tests on their unconscious/implicit biases they find out otherwise.
Humans are social creatures, and in our social world we are going to come in contact with all different types of people. It would serve us best to OPEN OUR EYES and OPEN THE EYES OF OTHERS in order to not be BLIND to our BIASES.
What are some steps you can take to do this?
1) Self analysis - really question your social groups and how much you have taken time to have relationships with and experiences with
2) Get out of your comfort zone
3) Contact The Bias Adjuster for customized assessment of your conscious and unconscious biases and customized strategies to reduce your specific biases/prejudice. We can also assess your children (ages 2 years and older), friends/family, and coworkers.
click here for a summary of Dr. Bentley Gibson's research on ingroup bias in Children across Different cultures