Understanding Unconscious and Implicit Biases

Image via Scientific American

Microaggressions are indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group. They can happen very casually and frequently, often without any harm intended. They can also take a huge toll on the mental health of the recipients of microaggressions. In other words, they are assumptions made based on stereotypes.

Some examples of microaggressions are when people say, “Where are you from? Your English is so good,” or “Is there something else I can call you? It’s hard to pronounce your name.” These statements are prejudiced and disregard the humanity and identity of the person in question. 

Implicit biases are prejudices or unsupported judgements in favor or against one thing, person, or group compared to another, in a way that is considered unfair. Implicit biases can lead to microaggressions and unfair treatment of others if left unchecked. Being aware of the potential impact of implicit biases means that you can take a more active role in overcoming social stereotypes, discrimination, and prejudice. The first step in addressing implicit bias is for an individual to gain an understanding and awareness of their own biases. Seeking exposure to other groups, learning about other cultures, and educating yourself is also crucial.

Implicit biases can also fall under different categories such as gender biases, racial biases, and religious biases. For instance, in a school setting, women are more likely to be associated with English Language Arts over STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), whereas men are more likely to be associated with STEM over English Language Arts. With regards to medical issues, racial and ethnic minorities and women are subject to less accurate diagnoses, curtailed treatment options, less pain management, and worse clinical outcomes. Furthermore, following the September 11th terrorist attacks, research shows that Americans have an implicit bias against Muslims due to the anti-Muslim media, as people commonly associate Muslims with violence and terrorism.

In order to avoid microaggressions, it is important to interact with people of different races, cultures, ethnicities, and sexualities. People must be open to conversation and willing to learn from mistakes. This topic is crucial for people to learn about because our own unconscious biases can shape the way we interact with other people. The more educated and aware we are about such issues, the less likely we are to hurt or disrespect someone unintentionally. It will also let us view the world with an open mind, free from any preconceived notions.