If You're Biased and You Know It, Clap Your Hands (and Then Do Something About It)


Sometimes when I feel like making myself uncomfortable over my own buried prejudice, I head over to Harvard’s Project Implicit to take some of their bias tests. Turns out, I have a slight anti-fat bias, which is fucked, because I’m fat. But it’s better to know, and to work on this shit, than to not — right? That’s what I tell myself.

You can also take implicit association tests to figure out how bad your unconscious biases is about gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and more. It’s a veritable smörgåsbord of things people are conflicted about because, well, society.

But how do you overcome the biases that we all have? Ones that exist because they were taught to us early, and then reinforced daily in many small and large ways through cultural codes. Because even though I work hard on body acceptance, and even though I know fat people are exactly the same as thin people (except fatter!), there’s still something in me that views fat as bad. I don’t like it, and I want to work on it.

In this snippet from Andrew Sullivan, Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard, the co-author of the new book Blindspot and an expert on these hidden biases, speaks with Tamar Gendler of Yale about how to best rid ourselves of these biases. It sounds fairly simple, which is good, because WORK UGH AM I RIGHT?

Turns out that if people are faced more with counter-stereotype images and assumptions — “the opposite of the one the culture typically pushes us towards” — it can greatly affect their thinking. Asking people to think about the other person in a positive way doesn’t work, but interventions that relied on giving counter examples ended up producing large shifts.

Banaji mentions how she built a screensaver that had counter-stereotype images in it — including a New Yorker cover with a construction worker woman in a hard hat breastfeeding her baby. The hope is that seeing enough images like this will make her more open, and that when a young woman comes into her office with a great idea, she’ll be more inclined to not judge the woman for her youthful voice, dress, whatever, and instead be able to focus on the woman’s ideas.

In other words, she can learn to treat the young woman in a respectful, thoughtful way that’s usually reserved for able-bodied white men in our culture. You know, normal people.

This is something we’ve heard before — repeatedly seeing diverse bodies makes us more comfortable with diverse bodies — and it makes sense. The more you encounter something, the less weirded out you are by it. It becomes just another, “OK, that’s a thing,” instead of it being good or bad.

We all have unconscious biases, and it’s exciting to think that with some conscious effort, we can change.

Weirdly, for me, forcing myself to look at my reflection in a full-length mirror — clothed or naked, I mix it up! — has helped, as well. It’s probably the same thing as the counter example, because I’ll often do most anything to avoid looking at a mirror. That’s an issue because when I don’t look at me, it’s always a bit shocking to see what I look like in photos. That has to at least be part of the reason people cry in weight loss commercials about how they didn’t know how fat they were until they saw a photo.

Perhaps it’s because they just never looked at yourself in the mirror, and appreciated what your body looks like? Looking at myself, and other fat women, takes the shock away, and I just begin to see my body for what it is — a body. No, I don’t look like most people on TV (that aren’t “before” pictures), but I’m teaching myself that’s not a bad thing.

Not to get too trite about it, but my body is good. It can breathe, and laugh, and solve problems. It can play the drums (poorly), hug my dogs, and walk up flights of stairs. My body is lucky and (for lack of a better word) privileged in so many ways, and I’m thankful. It’s fat and it’s good.

Now, I’m off to look at some fatshion blogs, do some naked jumping jacks in front of a mirror, and then take that damn test again.

[Andrew Sullivan]

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin