In 1994, Timothy D. Wilson and Nancy Brekke provided scientific proof that bias could be avoided or eliminated as follows:
- By becoming aware of the bias and why it exists;
- Having the motivation to overcome it;
- Awareness of the direction and magnitude of the bias; and
- The ability to apply an appropriate strategy to help reduce or otherwise manage the bias.
The issue of awareness of the bias is addressed in an article titled Emotional Self-Awareness Is Essential for Managing Biases. That issue and a preliminary discussion of the requisite motivation was discussed in the article Is focusing on perceived and actual biases misplaced? This article delves deeper into the motivation needed in order to reduce or otherwise keep one's biases in check.
If well-developed and used in a balanced manner, the skill of empathy has been proven to lead to fairness. However, when a person’s empathy is such that it favors one side or the other, their perception of what is and is not fair will be misaligned. This leads to conflict, injustice, and unethical and immoral behavior. After all, if a person sincerely believes they are being fair when they are not because their perception of fairness is misaligned, they will tend to think an outcome is just that is unjust. They may also be inclined to treat the side for whom their empathy is lacking in a manner they would otherwise consider unethical and immoral. Helping courts address implicit bias: Resources for education, provides as follows: "An individual’s motivation to be fair does matter," which means that one’s perception of what is and is not fair is incredibly important.
Let’s say that some people’s sense of fairness is such that they want a society in which everyone receives equal treatment, regardless of things such as race, color, ethnicity, religion, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability or genetic information, ancestry, disability, marital or parental status.
Let’s also say that other people’s sense of fairness is such that they do not want a society in which the members of all such groups receive equal treatment.
Furthermore, let’s say that some of the people who don’t want such equality fall within each and every aspect of the dominant culture in the United States of America, which according to social science researcher Brene’ Brown is white, Christian, middle class, cisgender, straight, and with at least a high school education.
Moreover, let’s say that other people who don’t want such equality in our society fall within more aspects of the dominant culture than they don't.
And, let’s say that many (most? almost all?) of those who want a society in which everyone receives equal treatment make comments such as the following, which they sincerely believe to be true:
“Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It’s not pie.”
Inequality occurs when some people or groups of people fall above the equality line and others fall below it.
Dr. Brown describes that which causes people to fall above the equality line as follows:
“Privilege, when it comes to race, is about unearned rights…. It’s not about how hard you work. Privilege is about unearned access and authority. If we don’t acknowledge our privilege, we don’t acknowledge the pain of others and we don’t acknowledge what is the trustiest thing about American democracy, which should be equality. We just don’t acknowledge it.”
What’s “interesting” is that when those who fall outside of the dominant culture in one or more aspects seek equal rights, they are often accused of seeking “special rights” and of having an “agenda” by members of those groups who enjoy the unearned rights described by Dr. Brown.
Consider the following quote from a 2016 report by Dr. Lynne Reeder of Australia21 titled Empathy Conversations – Testing their effectiveness as a policy-making instrument – A Pilot Study:
“It is not surprising that our limited worldviews, based on our particular life experiences, inform our expectations and assumptions. If those in policy positions have not been a member of a discriminated or minority group, and mostly they are not, then what personal relationships have shaped their life processes?”
Australia21 is “a not for profit public policy think tank specializing in promoting new evidence-based thinking about the big issues confronting Australia in a rapidly changing global environment" and Dr. Reeder was the Director of Australia21 at the time that Report was published.
That excerpt from Australia21’s Report is saying that which Dr. Brown has said as follows:
“We all see the world through a lens…. And, we look through lenses of age, ethnicity, race, ability – and that’s how we see the world. And then we slide in a lot of other lenses, like insight, personal experience, history, family stories – and we all see the world through this unique lens. [In the United States,] the whiter, more Judeo-Christian, straighter, middle class, educated we are, the more likely it is that we were told that how we see the world is actually the world and that how other people see the world is another unreal version of the world – that our view is the world…. We can’t put down the lens. The lens is soldered to our face. That’s how we see the world.”
Now, the statement and underlying beliefs that “equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you” is only accurate if solving inequality involves moving the equality line to the highest point above the equality line at which any group or person falls. The problem is that it is impossible to give everyone the same unearned privileges to the exact same degree because they are unearned privileges that result from cultural and societal biases.
Bias is defined as “an unfair personal opinion that influences your judgment.” And, such an “unfair personal opinion” can be in favor of or against someone or something. Biases are preferences and opinions, which are not the product of research and thoughtful analysis.
As such, how is it possible to move the equality line to the highest point above it at which any groups falls? It’s not!
Therefore, for everyone in our society to receive equal treatment, no person or group can enjoy unearned rights. Even though unearned rights are unearned, they are still rights, aren’t they? If those unearned rights must be eliminated, to the extent possible, for everyone in our society to receive equal treatment, doesn’t that mean that those enjoying them will enjoy fewer rights? If so, is the following statement and the beliefs underlying it true?
“Equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you. It’s not pie.”
For example, the first Black person to receive a college degree in the United States occurred somewhere between 1823 and 1826 and that person happened to be a male because females were not yet eligible to enroll in any college. Prior to that, Black males were not welcome to enroll in any college in the United States. Thereafter, Black colleges started opening to provide such opportunities to Black people interested in receiving a college education they were denied by existing colleges and universities. Laws later changed, such that no college or university could deny admittance to Black people or otherwise discriminate against them based upon their race, color, or ethnicity.
The first female to receive a college degree in the United States earned it in 1831 because females had not previously been welcome to enroll in any college in the United States. The same pattern occurred with regard to females as had occurred with regard to Black people.
As a result of antisemitism, starting in the 1920s, many colleges and universities in the United States began limiting Jewish enrollment. The same pattern occurred for Jewish people as had previously occurred with Black people and females.
Over time, because of changes in the law and constitutional interpretation, colleges and universities were generally not legally permitted to discriminate against people on the basis of race, color religion, sex, national origin, or other protected classifications. A large exception to this involves faith-based colleges and universities, when they are legally permitted to discriminate based upon their religious beliefs.
Think about this pattern. Basically, white males only competed against other white males for admittance to college, until members of other groups acquired the right to compete against them for admittance. And, as occurred with the Jewish population, some groups that previously had the right to compete against them, had that right restricted.
In other words, cisgender straight white Christian males of able body and mind in the United States of America have experienced increased competition for admittance into colleges and universities as members of other groups have obtained the legal right to compete.
Affirmative action policies were enacted in an effort to improve access to jobs and higher education for members of certain historically disadvantaged groups. Meanwhile, legacy preference or admission is a longstanding preference that many colleges and universities provide applicants based upon their familial relationship to alumni of the institution. Such policies benefit members of groups with a greater percentage of alumni from any given institution, which happen to be white Christians because of the history of legal discrimination in the United States. Let’s not forget the preference given to children of large donors or those who greased the right person’s hands, as was brought to light as a result of the 2019 college admissions bribery scandal, known as Operation Varsity Blues. Of course, such greasing involves financial means and discretion of the individuals taking such bribes as to who they are willing to unlawfully assist in gaining admission. Operation Varsity Blues primarily benefitted the children of white parents. And, members of groups which are eligible for affirmative action tend to have their competency questioned, while the same is not true for those who benefit from legacy admission and other such policies that are far more likely to benefit members of the dominant culture.
One need not be a rocket scientist to figure out that increased fair and impartial competition has resulted in the loss of unearned rights for cisgender straight white Christian males of able body and mind in the United States. It also does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that as members of groups previously excluded from such competition become eligible for such competition and such competition is legally required to be fair and impartial, members of the groups previously allowed to participate in the competition lose their unearned rights.
This same scenario applies equally well to housing, employment, and all other opportunities.
Telling people whose loss of unearned rights, which feels like discrimination to them, that “equal rights for others does not mean fewer rights for you” is untrue, insensitive, and offensive. Making such a statement and holding the beliefs underlying it demonstrates a lack of empathy.
What Dr. Brown and Australia21 have stated is that the more someone falls within the dominant culture in any given society, the more difficult it is for them to possess the competency required for true empathy and compassion toward those who look, act and/or think differently from themselves, regardless of whether their values include empathy and compassion.
Do you think that making untrue, insensitive and offensive comments to those experiencing the very real pain of having their unearned rights reduced or eliminated - rights which they typically fail to perceive as unearned rights - is a productive way of achieving equal treatment for all?
Australia21’s study upon which its Report was based involved the use of empathy conversations as a policy resource. All of the participants in the study received training to help them to develop the skills needed to engage in empathy conversations. The empathy conversations then took place between people with very different lived experiences. These facilitated empathy conversations enabled the participants to develop empathy for each other, which led to a more complete and accurate understanding of the problems involved and improved decision-making. Australia21 basically developed a process for facilitating the types of empathy conversations which Dr. Brown has explained need to occur because the following is true for each and every one of us:
And, as Dr. Reeder explains,
"It's important that we talk about empathy and compassion as competencies and as motivations - not as values - because you can have a value of empathy and compassion, but if you don't have the competency, you're not able to enact it."
As Timothy D. Wilson and Nancy Brekke proved, it is possible for each and every one of us to keep our biases in check, assuming the motivation exists, among other things. Helping courts address implicit bias: Resources for education explains what is required as follows:
“While motivation to be fair is a good start, it is not enough. Research shows that individuals need to understand what implicit bias is, that it exists, and that concrete steps must be taken to reduce its influence (e.g., see Mendoza, Gollwitzer, & Amodio, 2010; Kim, 2003). These studies show that implicit racial bias is something that can be controlled, but only if individuals are equipped with the tools necessary to address it."
Our interpersonal relationships and problem-solving abilities would improve tremendously, among many other things, if we all put in the time and effort involved in developing these competencies, which are aspects of emotional intelligence, the very foundation of which is emotional self-awareness.