Racial Bias in America: We Need to Talk
by Elyette Levy on February 12, 2017 - 9:51pm
One day, while talking with a group of friends at school, the subject of my racial background came up. One girl, who I do not know that well, but went to high school with, seemed very confused to learn that I am half Taiwanese. At one point, to clarify her thoughts, she said something along the lines of, “Wait… if your mom is Asian… then that means your dad is normal!”
When I met someone at a party a few months back, one of the first questions they asked me, trying to word it in a polite way, was, “What nationality are your parents?” To which I answered, “Both my parents are Canadian”, which is true; both of them immigrated here about 20 years ago. They looked at me and said, “Canadian? You don’t look full white.” As we all know, ‘Canadian’ is a race now.
These kinds of comments, while very frustrating and annoying, are not uncommon to me, and even less to people of color who don’t look as white as I do. And, as someone who has seen firsthand what anti-Asian racism looks like when out with my mom, they are definitely not the worst things I have heard. Their impact, however, is still significant and very representative of how widespread racial bias is in our country and culture.
This is explained by Emily Badger in her article “We’re All a Little Biased, Even if We Don’t Know it”, where she talks about the way the topic of implicit bias was handled during the election. Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s vice-president, demanded that we stop accusing law enforcers right and left of implicit bias. To him, and to many others, implicit or racial bias is just a synonym for racist, despite that not being the scientific meaning of it.
Badger defines implicit bias as “the mind’s way of making uncontrolled and automatic associations between two concepts very quickly”. It is a sign of human adaptation, and it doesn’t only occur in social contexts; one can implicitly associate a more expensive price tag to healthier, fresher, or organic food. But in a social context, black people are often implicitly, or sometimes even explicitly, associated with violence; and police officers with these kinds of racial biases have been put under the spotlight recently.
As the author explains in her article, published on October 5th, 2016, this effect can be experienced by anyone, even people of color, since it stems from societal beliefs. In a culture which puts minorities at a social status inferior to that of white people, it becomes easy for people of color to start disliking their skin tone or culture. And despite that many white people consider themselves not racist, and despite what their intentions can be, they can still have implicitly biased opinions. Badger clarifies that, “in the context of race, implicit bias is considered a particularly important idea because it acknowledges forces beyond bigotry that perpetuate inequality.”
The New York Times article also states that “the challenge […] isn’t to eliminate biases, but to try to interrupt them so we can act more often in ways that line up with our values.” This is an important point because it emphasizes the importance of overlooking our biases in a society which is trying to normalize them and make the subject a taboo. When Mr. Pence, a man whose opinion is now extremely valuable to the public, says that calling out people who have implicit bias “really has got to stop”, it strays us further away from having a societal conversation and brings us closer to the shutdown of any conversation about racial inequality, a conversation which is already difficult to have, especially when initiated by people of color.
The discussion about racism is one that affects me personally, and the discussion about implicit bias is one that I believe it is our duty, as human beings, but especially as white people, to have. Our privilege is of great help to those who are oppressed, just like our silence is of great harm.
I don’t consider it okay for people to immediately equate ‘Canadian’ with ‘white’, especially when the original Canadians, also known as Indigenous people, are still being persecuted for even being on their own territory (but I digress, since the topic of Indigenous people deserves a lot more attention than a single paragraph on a blog).
I don’t consider it okay that my mother, who has been a citizen for longer than I, or most people I know, have, is still thought of as an “abnormal” person in Canada (which is an insult in itself – abnormal? really?), especially since Canadians often like to give themselves a congratulatory pat on the back for their acceptancy of immigrants and multiculturalism.
I don’t consider it okay for store employees to roll their eyes or look frustrated whenever my mother is trying to ask them a question in broken French or English. Try learning a new language, let alone two at the same time, at thirty, when the only language you know has nothing in common with Latin.
I don’t consider it okay for people to make fun of my culture and my language by asking me to “say something in Mandarin” or “what ‘ching chong’ means” or to call every East Asian person “Ling Ling” to be comfortable making cat and dog eating jokes around me as soon as they learn about my roots.
I don’t consider it okay that I automatically become the token Asian friend, the representative for all white people who exclaim that they “can’t be racist because I have an Asian friend”, when I meet someone.
I don’t consider it okay for people to fetishize East Asian girls or to view them as “submissive schoolgirls”, or worse, “exotic and seductive”; or that Asian people are so underrepresented in the media that the only people that come to mind when talking about Asian actors are Jackie Chan and that Korean chick in Lost; or that, despite the misrepresentation of Asian people in the media, the live-action movie version of Ghost in the Shell, a Japanese movie, a white woman was cast for the role; or that any Asian person who isn’t East Asian is considered “kind of Asian but not really” simply because their skin isn’t pale; or that-
I could go on. I am tired of fighting for Asian people to be recognized as people. I am tired that my mother gets better service when I am there with her, when she has the help of my white privilege.
Before we decide to ban all discussion about implicit bias, let’s first make sure our hands are clean about racial discrimination.
Other sources: http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/05/13/doll.study/