Why I read “Diversely”

After the disastrous 2016 US Presidential Election, I had a conversation with a friend in which she asked me how I went from growing up in a house with incredibly conservative values to being an adult who is very left leaning.

I thought about it, and the shift really did begin in college. I took a class, and really, I have no idea which one it was, where I was required to take an Implicit Bias Test (IAT). I was shocked to see the results, which were that I had significant racial bias. This began my journey towards engaging around issues of race, and then sexuality, and gender until I became the annoyingly progressive intersectional feminist that I am today (and hope to be even more tomorrow).

Think you are colorblind and are raising your kids to be the same? I encourage you to take a test. Why? See what the test makers say:

Why Should I Care About My IAT Score?

It is well-established that implicit preferences can affect behavior. Implicit preferences have been shown to be related to discrimination in hiring and promotion, medical treatment, and decisions related to criminal justice.

What Can I Do About an Implicit Preference That I Do Not Want?

Right now, there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Packaged “diversity trainings” generally do not use evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases. Therefore, we encourage people not to focus on strategies for reducing bias, but to focus instead on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate, such as blind auditions and well-designed “structured” decision processes. Investment by federal and private funding sources in research to develop evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases is, right now, quite minimal.

Implicit bias affects behavior. Implicit bias affects behavior. IMPLICIT BIAS AFFECTS BEHAVIOR.

I know so many people who would swear they are not “racist.” I don’t care if you don’t use the “n” word – chances are, you are biased. And that bias affects your behavior.

Lest you think I consider myself immune – I don’t. I took the Race-Weapons IAT just before writing this blog post. Shocker: my data suggests that I have “a moderate association for Harmless Objects with White Americans and Weapons with Black Americans.”

So, what does that mean? It means, among so many other things, that I’m more likely to find it “reasonable” that a harmless pack of skittles is a weapon when it is in the hands of a black hoodie wearing teenager. Maybe I can’t change that automatic assumption, but I can recognize that I have it and work to correct any chance it has to operate.

So what does this have to do with reading? Well, even though the IAT creators said the research is still out on whether you can reduce implicit bias, I read (and I can’t remember where, but I think it was a Malcolm Gladwell book, and if anyone recognizes this anecdote please tell me where it’s from) where a guy took the IAT every day. And every day, he was still biased. Then one day, his results changed. He was pleasantly surprised, and tried to figure out what caused it. Turns out, before he took the test, he had watched Michael Johnson win a race.

michael johnson.jpg

Michael Johnson being a badass

So he looked into this. It turns out there is some support for the idea that positive exposure to marginalized groups makes you see them more favorably. Which, um, makes sense. Since a HUGE part of negative associations with groups such as black people, LGBTQ+ individuals, muslims, etc is because of negative press.

I have made a concerted effort to expose myself to a diversity of marginalized voices in order to basically retrain my brain and its automatic assumptions. (Because again, IMPLICIT BIAS AFFECTS BEHAVIOR, and I don’t want to be an asshole.)

And guess what? There is AWESOME ART being created by people in all kinds of groups! I am never lacking for good book suggestions. And if I can read books by women of color and queer people and Arab men and immigrants and feminists and talk about those books and suggest those books and ENJOY those books, and by doing so make the world a teensy bit more fair and make myself recognize and grapple with my own bias a bit more, then why the heck wouldn’t I do that? And if I don’t like a book by someone in one of those groups it is easier to say “I didn’t like that book” and not “I don’t like books written by black women” because I have read LOTS of books by black women and I don’t think that one is representative of the whole.

So I’m hoping to be blogging more about what I’m reading. And lots of those books will probably be from authors that aren’t cisgender straight white able bodied men. And I hope you’ll join me.

And seriously, before you get all annoyed or whatever, take any one of the tests. Take. The. Test.