Anger, Fear, and Confronting My Own Biases

Many Americans are angry. I think many are angry because many blue-collar careers no longer provide a middle class lifestyle. The America that provided a better lifestyle than their parents has moved beyond the reach of many. And so they’re angry for what they have lost. Many Americans are fearful because prospects for their children to have a better lifestyle than they experienced is possibly not a realistic vision for their future. Maybe even many cannot envision what place they have in the future America. Or what they envision terrifies them.

The cause for this economic shift is far beyond my grasp of history and economics to explain adequately, but I am confident in saying that it is the result of a great many variables and complexities. I’m also confident in saying that it isn’t caused by one political party or the other but has roots in an expectation of a perpetual growth of economy. An economy based on the consumption of natural resources and the production of (mostly) disposable goods made from natural resources defies the laws of physics and cannot continue indefinitely.

So, I believe many Americans voted for a presidential candidate from a place of emotion and visceral reaction instead of intellectual evaluation of options, possibly balancing underlying fear of a changing face of America for them and their children with an unfavorable visceral reaction to the two main party candidates. And the former fear won out in the end. So many voted for a candidate promising a return to a former (and therefore “better”) America. For many though, this is felt a retreat from progress towards equity. More anger and fear.

I write this morning trying to figure out what this election means for the America that I live in. I can’t help but feel saddened as it appears to me we are embracing rhetoric of hate, fear, racism, bigotry, and misogyny. I freely admit, I am now part of the electorate that is angry and fearful and feeling left behind.

We are a divided nation—not even into just two halves, but fractured into many cultures, sub-cultures, groups, and identities. Foundational to these divisions is race. We have not come nearly as far as we thought we had, and racism is alive and well and must be confronted.

And it begins with me. This morning I took three different implicit bias tests. The one I participated in is from Harvard and can be found here:

Here is a definition of implicit bias from the National Center for the State Courts:

Unlike explicit bias (which reflects the attitudes or beliefs that one endorses at a conscious level), implicit bias is the bias in judgment and/or behavior that results from subtle cognitive processes (e.g., implicit attitudes and implicit stereotypes) that  often operate at a level below conscious awareness and without intentional control. The underlying implicit attitudes and stereotypes responsible for implicit bias are those beliefs or simple associations that a person makes between an object and its evaluation that “…are automatically activated by the mere presence (actual or symbolic) of the attitude object” (Dovidio, Gaertner, Kawakami, & Hudson, 2002, p. 94; also Banaji & Heiphetz, 2010).

 I took three tests measuring reaction to race (European descent and African descent), skin tone (light or dark), and Native Americans (as identified as American or foreign). I’m troubled by what I learned. I had a strong preference for individuals of European origin over African origin, a slight preference for light skin tone of dark skin tone, and a slight association with images of American origin with historical faces of European origin over associating those same images with images of historical Native Americans. Many will say they are “colorblind” or strive to be colorblind. Maybe this is a fallacy. Maybe that approach simply leads to denial, which eventually results in an eruption of frustration, anger, and fear.

Well here’s the good news. Also according to the National Center for State Courts, “‘Although automatic, implicit biases are not completely inflexible: They are malleable to some degree and manifest in ways that are responsive to the perceiver’s motives and environment’ (Blair, 2002).”

We have work to do and I guess my work begins with me.


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