What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious biases are the learned stereotypes about certain groups of people that are formed outside of conscious awareness. They are automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained in our beliefs, universal and have the ability to affect our behaviour. Unconscious bias can manifest as “prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair.” Australian Human Rights Commission.
In classroom contexts, unconscious bias may affect curriculum delivery. An example of unconscious bias in an educational setting would be if the curriculum content only included specific cultural perspectives and ignored others which were also relevant and important.
An example of unconscious bias in a social context might be if, when dividing up players for a soccer match, a captain unintentionally only chose players of a racial background similar to their own.
“I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify.
Now, things changed when I discovered African books. There weren’t many of them available, and they weren’t quite as easy to find as the foreign books. But because of writers like Chinua Achebe and Camara Laye, I went through a mental shift in my perception of literature. I realized that people like me, girls with skin the color of chocolate, whose kinky hair could not form ponytails, could also exist in literature. I started to write about things I recognized.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
How do we address unconscious bias?
The first step to addressing your unconscious biases is to acknowledge that everyone has them. It is a good idea to reflect on your actions and decisions and think about what motivated them. Did your actions benefit a particular group of people in an unfair way? Reducing these unconscious biases will help create a more inclusive and equitable space for everybody.
For more information, see What can be done to reduce unconcious bias, created by SBS.