I am a middle-class white Christian woman living in Alabama. I am not looking to add to the chaos and clamor surrounding every discussion of race I have heard in the country and in my state for the last two years. I certainly have no wiser words to add than have already been said. We have provable systemic problems that need to be corrected. We have men and women in police uniforms being targeted and maligned for the actions of a few bad actors. We have men and women of color who are right to point out that there is inherent discrimination, and they are right to fear the “system” as it exists. I only want to add an admission to this discussion that bias exists, and it isn’t the same as racism.
How do I know this (besides the hundreds of well-researched studies and papers about this very topic)? Because I saw it in my own thought process this week. Having jumped back on the writing wagon with both feet, I have been working on a book about processing grief, and I’m plotting a novel to write after I finish the grief project. In my free brain time, like commuting, I have been dreaming up characters and mapping the town for my novel; I imagine their faces, and I give them personalities and quirks and voices. I was running through my cast of characters a few days ago, and this realization slapped me into rethinking my characters: everyone I had imagined was white. Every. Single. One.
I imagined a world that I limited without even realizing it. I restricted the beauty available to my made up world by unwittingly restricting it to a single color. That certainly doesn’t reflect my life – I have a workplace and professional network full of vibrant and diverse people; I have served and socialized with and taught people from all over the world; and I have people I consider family whose skin is very different from mine. But I failed to incorporate that into any of my major characters, not because I am racist but because I am biased. I based many of the basics about my characters on family and people I have known in similar towns, and most of my family is white. That is what I naturally imagined first, which isn’t inherently bad or wrong, but it does reflect my natural bias.
Bias isn’t inherently bad, either, but unchecked and unexamined, it becomes racism or sexism or any other ism out there. I am not advocating for any particular activism or group here. I think it’s wonderful to be part of a group that is helping people, but I also believe activism happens best on a personal basis. I can only control my own thoughts and actions, and I have limited influence on anyone else’s thoughts and actions. I have seen every side of the current political system try to shout the other side down, and I have seen them fail to persuade the masses outside their own party to fall in line with their thinking. For what it’s worth, I think both major parties are wrong right now. And I think both sides are hurting right now over the election results and the responses to it. As a nation we aren’t seeing past our biases.
My only goal in sharing this is to encourage you to closely examine your own biases and to share them honestly with someone once you see them for what they are. If you are like the majority of the country, you aren’t racist, but you might be filtering the news and politics through a biased lens. I work hard to find news reports from every angle to break up the echo chamber that’s so easy to fall into on social media and by sticking to a single source for news. I try to empathize with every side in a story and to wait for facts before choosing a side. In spite of this effort, I realized I am still biased. I say this with no shame and no guilt, but I also know that I must be vigilant to see things from the perspective of “other.” No matter what category your race or gender or age or anything else puts you in, you are implicitly biased; it appears to be a fact of human nature to seek out same and avoid other.
We all just have to work hard to love other as much as we love same. It’s as easy and as impossible as that.