The damage done by unconscious bias
“Who are you to judge me and the life I live?”— Bob Marley
Unconscious bias is commonly defined as the ideals, attitudes and associations we hold subconsciously that often greatly affect the way we see, feel and interact with other individuals. While this natural phenomenon helps us to make quick judgments about the world that help us survive, it is also limits the way we see others and can open a path for dangerous perceptions to influence our actions.
Negative stereotypes, villainising myths, microaggressions and overt prejudices begin with unconscious bias and lead to real-life consequences for those on the receiving end. Two of these consequences that have significant trickle-down effects and are well-researched are structural violence and minority stress (these two terms are worth exploring for those interested).
A large majority of the biases we have as members of present and past colonies stem from the systematic and hegemonic ideals designed to create separation and strip our communities of power. Homophobia is a prime example. LGBTQ+ identities have existed since the beginning of human existence and were largely seen as a natural variation of the human experience, especially among the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa and Asia. It is well documented that anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, beliefs and laws began to enter our societies only through colonialism, the subsequent spread of Catholicism and proliferation of slavery.
Understanding our biases, where they come from and doing the work to unlearn them is crucial to ensuring we can recreate an equitable society for all founded on mutual respect, understanding and love. With that being said, below is a list of 11 thought-provoking questions.
While targeted towards those opposed to the human rights of LGBTQ+ people, or any marginalised group, these questions can be used in a few other ways. They can serve as conversation starters within LGBTQ+ and ally social circles. They can be also used by LGBTQ+ people and allies to challenge some of the ideas they themselves hold, or those held by friends and family.
Regardless of the context, it must be understood that there are no right or wrong answers. This is simply an exercise we can use to begin to examine some of our own ideals, to begin to challenge and unlearn the colonial ideologies that have invaded our lineages, and, lastly, to begin to deepen our understanding of one another with the hope that a mutual respect and love can be found.
• Are all people deserving of the same level respect? Why? Why not?
• Do you have a right to cast judgment on someone based on one of their identities; ie, their race, class, gender, religion, disability status or sexual orientation? If so, why do you believe you have that right?
• Why are some forms of prejudice accepted in our society and others aren’t? Why is systematic and overt homophobia largely socially acceptable in Bermuda, but racism is not? What separates the LGBTQ+ identity from other identities such as religion, race or age?
• Imagine if people with LGBTQ+ identities were the majority, wouldn’t you as a cisgender, heterosexual person want the same rights, privileges and resources that LGBTQ+ advocates are fighting for at present?
• What about LGBTQ+ people makes you feel uncomfortable? Why does seeing or hearing anything related to the LGBTQ+ community spark a negative reaction within you?
• What is the basis of your bias towards LGBTQ+ people? Is it reasonably justifiable?
• Do your negative feelings stem from projecting intrapersonal issues with your own sexual identity on to others?
• Why is being LGBTQ+ considered inherently wrong or a negative attribute? Where are these ideals coming from?
• If your issues with LGBTQ+ people stem from religion, do you think you have a right to force your beliefs on to others? And do you think you have a right to force others into following the rules of a religion that they do not necessarily subscribe to? Why?
• If we, as Black people, really want to break free from our colonial identities and mindsets, should we not re-examine the significance of colonial ideas such as colourism and homophobia and why we still allow them to dominate the societies in which we are the majority? Why are we not seeking a return to our pre-colonial mindsets, where the uniqueness of LGBTQ+ people was respected and valued?
• Why aren’t we doing everything we can to ensure that every young person, regardless of their identities, has a safe, nurturing and equitable environment in which to develop and grow?
• Taj Donville-Outerbridge is a Bermudian activist and student studying at King’s College London. Most importantly, however, he is human. He can be reached via Instagram @_king.taj_ or via e-mail @ firstname.lastname@example.org
• Onuri Smith is an aspiring artist studying musical theatre in London and is the founder of Inclusion Bermuda (@inclusionbda on Instagram), an organisation focused on empowering marginalised youth to step into their most authentic selves. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com