Bias is an interesting facet of life. It leads to prejudice and, in some cases, discrimination. Some people think of discrimination as a horrible social ill. But it’s good to be discriminating about things, depending on what they are. You can use judgement to not choose a style that does not flatter your figure. You can choose not to live in a place that incorporates materials to which you know you have an allergy. You can (sort of) choose not to eat peanuts if you have an allergy to them or some food that causes you to be ill.
I’ve highlighted certain segments of the definitions of these terms below for the reader’s convenience and to facilitate this conversation.
We tend to think of prejudice in the negative when we hear the word as it stands on it’s own. In that state, it’s considered to indicate bigotry. And we all know that being a bigot is a horrible state of existence.
How many of us are aware that it’s taught? It can be taught by practices in one’s culture. It can be used for the sake of preserving safety or even heredity. The first lessons come as we are small children taking instruction from parents or care providers. At these tender ages, there is no questioning of the trusted “adult” in our lives. The concepts and practices become deep rooted with practice. As they are put into daily practice, there is little need to consider what is done or said; there’s little to no questioning of the psychology. After a time, choices that are made almost on an instinctive basis.
But some children are a little more precocious than others. They will eventually consider why they are taught to be courteous and considerate of some people but others who are treated with less respect than the neighbor’s pet. One poignant example is the story of the multiracial child. The mother was White, the father a mixture of Black and French. Both parents carried several Native American heredities. One day the mother told the child, “I don’t like people with blonde hair. I think it’s ugly. People with blonde hair aren’t nice.” The child determined from those words that they should feel the same about people with blonde hair.
Of course, the mother had green/hazel eyes and some of the family members had grey and even blue eyes. The lesson avoided disdain for people with certain eye colors. But of necessity, there was some inclusion because it is more likely to find a blonde with blue eyes. But this was a thinking child who learned from others as well as from reasoning out situations and problems. The child realized that they actually liked the look of blonde hair. They admired the fact that pictures of blonde models showed them wearing black ribbons in their hair. The child wanted to emulate the models but was told they could not wear black ribbons. The reason was because no one would be able to see the hair decoration. And the child resented the restriction based solely on the fact that their hair was black.
The child was also taught to dislike people who speak with a Southern accent. The lesson with that was that people from the South did not like Negroes and treated them in an unkind manner. That lesson was reinforced at every turn, in movies, in most of life, in books.
Eventually both lessons were cast aside when the matured person who was then responsible for developing their own value system began to work and associate with many types of people – even blondes with Southern accents. It was discovered that many of those people were not unlikeable. The lesson that replaced the childhood training was that you need to take each person on their own merit and their own proclivities. But no matter what, it is imperative to treat each person with courtesy and respect.
Prejudice and bigotry are taught. They can become so ingrained that the reason for the bias becomes obscured. It takes inclusion and association with others to dismantle the myths that strain to maintain their hold on social values and opportunities. Because the manner of dealing with others in a biased manner becomes so fundamental in our dealings, when the one suffering the unfair treatment objects, they suffer further punishment. Their position is further compromised and made even worse than before speaking. In fact, they can face the very real consequence of being barred from the opportunity – or worse. These days, the phenomenon is occasionally referred to as retaliation.
The Rise of Civil Rights
Is it any wonder that our nation heaved a heavy shoulder at the practices that excluded the talents and recognition of those who were not White? The age of the Civil Rights Movement arrived. Movements and demonstrations to advocate for equality in all things. By the 1960s, the Civil Rights Act was born. It’s most commanding aspect are Title VI (having to do with businesses that receive federal funds for the services they provide and under the purview of the Department of Justice) and Title VII (having to do with matters relating to employment with oversight from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Although the Act has changed much of how we behave toward one another in our daily lives and business dealings, although its initial impact was significant in opening doors that were barred, many have either forgotten the basis for its enactment or have never learned about the opportunity it provided for us to flourish because of our many attributes, both instinctive (derived through specialized, repetitive training) and innate (occurring in one’s makeup naturally by birth).
- Bias: A particular tendency or inclination, especially one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice. Also defined as: mental tendency or inclination, esp. an irrational preference or prejudice.
- Bigotry: stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own.
- Discrimination: 1. treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit:
2. racial and religious intolerance and discrimination.
3. the power of making fine distinctions; discriminating judgment.
Archaic. something that serves to differentiate.
- Discrimination: 1. unfair treatment of a person, racial group, minority, etc; action based on prejudice
2. subtle appreciation in matters of taste
3. the ability to see fine distinctions and differences
- Prejudice: A hostile opinion about some person or class of persons. Prejudice is socially learned and is usually grounded in misconception, misunderstanding, and inflexible generalizations.
- Everyday Indignities: Race, Retaliation, and the Promise of Title VII, Terry Smith, 34 Colum. Hum. Rts. L. Rev. 529 (2002-2003)
- Adopting the EEOC Deterrence Approach to the Adverse Employment Action Prong in a Prima Facie Case for Title VII Retaliation, Joan M. Savage, 46 B.C. L. Rev. 215 (2004-2005)
- Does Justice Need Glasses? Unlawful Retaliation Under Title VII Following MaTTern: Will Courts Know It When They See It?, Cude, Donna Smith and Steger, Brian M., The Labor Lawyer, Vol. 14, No. 2 (Fall 1998), pp. 373-413, Published by: American Bar Association
- The Failure of Title VII as a Rights-Claiming System; Brake, Deborah L.; Grossman, Joanna L., 86 N.C. L. Rev. 859 (2007-2008)
- Title VII Retalliation Cases: Creating a New Protected Class; Ray, Douglas E., 58 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 405 (1996-1997)
- “Civil Rights Movement.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law. 2005. Encyclopedia.com. (October 13, 2014).
- Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives
- Hidden Bias – How Unconscious Attitudes on Diversity Undermine Organizations and What to do about it