Francesca Rudkin: It's time we acknowledge our own stereotypes

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Manage episode 232322027 series 2500324
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Interesting the way the brain works to interpret the world for us, categorising our world to help us make sense of it, and, as far as people are concerned, in the process creating stereotypes which can lead to bias. As Jennifer Eberhardt told me earlier: there’s a difference between racism and bias, and we shouldn’t be afraid of acknowledging our own implicit bias. We all do it, whether we’re talking about humans, cars, fruit, or computers. It’s how our brains work. Since March 15th I’ve heard friends, family and colleagues, talking about casual, unconscious bias. It seems to me that many New Zealanders are taking a moment to think about their perceptions of other people - and that’s a good thing. We’ve had rallys, marches, and remembrances. There have been moving moments, moments of great humanity, solidarity and sorrow. There have also been moments taken-over by politics and other agendas. There have been overreactions to many things - from Western women wearing the hijab to the name of a sport’s team. People have debated whether This is Us, or They are Us, and how rife racism is in New Zealand. And we’re only just beginning to discuss the role of freedom of speech as opposed to laws against hate speech. This week, MP Louisa Wall's suggested that traditional media has a duty of care not to print what some interpret as racist material, such as comics portraying Maori and Pasifika as alcoholic chain smokers exploiting free school lunches. The Human Rights Tribunal ruled they didn’t promote racial disharmony. Whatever the technicalities, Wall is right about one thing: racism hurts. Ask anyone who’s been on the receiving end. It’s been a rewarding, frustrating and confrontational topic of conversation, and I’m sure a lot of people would like it to stop now, to just move on, or rather, move back to how it was before. That would be real shame. As Eberhardt says, “there is hope in the sheer act of reflection”. Acknowledging you stereotype people and an awareness of how you voice this – at home, with family, with work colleagues – is important, because when you show your bias you support the biases of those around you. As Eberhardt says in her book, addressing bias is not just a personal choice; it’s a social agenda, a moral stance. It’s a way of protecting disadvantaged groups in our society and we all have the capacity to make change. Doesn’t matter where you live, people get defensive when it comes to talking about racism. Does approaching it from this scientific place make it easier? Does understanding the science behind implicit bias and the idea we all experience it regardless of ethnicity, break down those defences? If nothing else, surely it’s a good starting point.

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