Implicit Bias - Lessons from our ParentEd Session

With everything that's going on - wildfires, the pandemic and a hyper-partisan political election, why is talking about implicit bias so important? That is how Professor Jerry Kang started the first ParentEd of the school year. While implicit bias may seem quite subtle or small, it is critical to understand racial inequality in the United States. 
It started with simply enough; Professor Jerry Kang flashed a chessboard graphic and asked if squares A and B were the same. Because the chess squares had a shadow cast, square A appeared to be the darkest. The answer seemed obvious, but Kang erased everything surrounding all but two squares to show that they actually were the same shade.
Using the chessboard illusion, Professor Kang introduced the concept of implicit bias - attitudes that affect our unconscious understanding, actions, and decisions. While explicit bias has dramatically diminished over the past century, Professor Kang states that "implicit bias is still responsible for racial and gender disparities that persist in household income, job status and a myriad of inequities." 
Implicit bias can also be present in schools, where students of different ethnicities may have unequal attention, feedback or discipline. Even those well-intentioned may have some degree of implicit bias. Because it is unconscious, it is practically impossible to recognize and address without active effort.
What are things that we can do as a community to limit implicit bias and establish an equitable learning environment? For Kang, it involves a few steps:
  • Be aware of your implicit bias. There are websites, like Project Implicit, a non-profit organization run by academics at a range of universities studying implicit bias. Professor Kang demonstrated how these activities may uncover what implicit biases you may hold.
  • Understand the consequences of implicit bias. For teachers, Professor Kang talked about how seemingly insignificant actions may cumulatively impact a student's overall educational experience. Realizing the scope of your own bias can hopefully show you how you can address it in your personal life.
  • Replace the bias. If you recognize that a response to a person might be rooted in biases or stereotypes, make an effort to adjust your response consciously. Expose yourself and your children to diverse cultures (people, perspectives) and counter-stereotypical examples, which will gradually chip away at your unconscious bias.
For students, each new year offers a unique opportunity to learn and grow. And we are grateful to the Chandler Family Associates (CFA) for providing this opportunity to learn and grow alongside each other in this first session for the ParentEd Series. The topic of implicit bias for realizing our goal of creating a diverse, equitable, inclusive and collaborative community. 
If you'd like to continue this work, check out some resources from the Racial Equity Tools website, including a TEDx presentation from Jerry Kang in case you missed our ParentEd session: