Posted by on 21st January 2020

What it Means to Have Implicit Bias, and How It Impacts Romance Authors (Including Me)

Quote: Talk with people who make you see the world differently. - The Vibrant Mind
Implicit bias

Implicit bias…We all suffer from it. Though those on the receiving end of our resulting words and actions suffer from it the most.

What is implicit bias?

Having implicit bias towards or against someone simply means you unconsciously have certain stereotypes buried deep in your brain that impact what you do or say. Most likely, you learned them at a really young age due to social conditioning. Then they’ve been reinforced throughout your life.

These biases can be favorable and unfavorable, but what’s most important is that they live in your subconscious and are initiated involuntarily. These unconscious beliefs can be the polar-opposite of what you consciously believe, and they can impact how you perceive, and react to, other people.
Interestingly, you can even have implicit bias against people in your own demographic.

If you don’t think you have any implicit biases, you’re probably wrong. Because we all do to some extent.

If the idea that you might have implicit bias against, say, people of color, fat people, women, LGBTQ+ folks, people from another country or religion, or any other demographic group makes you immediately defensive, you definitely have implicit biases.

How do I know? It’s not because I’m an expert on the subject (that’s for sure). It’s because I recently ran headfirst into some of my own implicit biases. And boy has it thrown me for a loop. Though really, I shouldn’t be surprised.

I’m an almost fifty white woman raised in the deep South. When I think back on jokes and limericks and statements of “truth” from my childhood, I’m appalled by the way they framed women and people of color. When I remember some of the things regularly said about AIDS, gay men, and gay rights in the eighties, I get nauseous.

Even though I never agreed with those portrayals or beliefs, they still squirmed their way into my psyche. They carved out comfy little spaces in my brain that result in me not being able to recognize all kinds of flat out wrong statements and actions for what they are.

Because these biased statements or ideas get repeated so often, it’s hard to even notice them. I’m desensitized, and so are most people.

That is not okay.

Everything we read, see, and hear in our culture can weaken or strengthen our implicit biases.

Sometimes statements, and ideas or behaviors, are perpetuated purposefully in support of the status quo.

The political/media campaigns against freed slaves after the Civil War were designed to convince us men of color would kill, rob, or rape whites, and that the woman were hypersexualized, come to mind. Flyers, op-eds and advertisements were put out by political foes of emancipation and people (mostly white and male) who feared they’d lose money and/or power if those freed slaves were allowed to gain money and/or power.

Sometimes it’s because the creators of that media have implicit bias. Thus certain ethnicities and people from particular countries are often the criminals in movies. And women are often portrayed as weak, ditzy, catty, or emotionally out-of-control.

Either way, without realizing it, certain stereotypes become so common we inherently believe they’re true.

How does implicit bias affect me as a romance author?

Authors, of course, write the books and magazine articles and screenplays we read. Which are then often turned into the movies and TV shows we watch.

I very much want to write romances that reflect the diverse world I live in and include all the people. Because every person deserves to love and be loved. Everyone deserves their own Happily Ever After—whatever that might look like.

I want to write romances that destroy the tired stereotype of the unhappy marriage. I want to show readers healthy relationships built on respect and love, not the shrew of a wife and the lazy husband who fight all the time.

I also don’t ever want to voice or reaffirm negative, untrue stereotypes. And I do not ever want to inadvertently portray people different from myself in a poor light simply because they are different. Or portray them in a way that isn’t true and is hurtful.

Unfortunately, I know I will likely do all of the above, no matter how hard I try. Because, implicit bias.

So, I hold on to the idea that all I can do is strive to be aware of my own implicit biases. To have sensitivity readers anytime I’m dealing with a culture or experience not my own. To listen and learn, and not be afraid to own my mistakes, apologize, and work to do and be better.

What can be done about implicit bias?

  1. Recognize and admit you have implicit bias against someone, some group. And that it might even be a group you belong to.
  2. If someone accuses you of a bias or negative stereotype, and it makes you defensive, recognize that is a sign of implicit bias.
  3. Learn more about where/when your own implicit biases comes into play.
  4. Stop and think long and hard about any knee-jerk reaction or thoughts, negative OR positive (No, not all Asian people are great at math.) reaction you have to a person or group, and work to not perpetuate stereotypes.
  5. If someone tells you that your words or actions are hurtful or wrong, listen to them. Apologize, thank them for letting you know, and vow to do better.

Resources for learning more about, and rooting out, your implicit bias:

The Kirwani Institute offers more information on the nature of implicit bias.

Not sure where your own implicit biases may lie? Head over to the Perception Institute website for more information, and tests to help you determine your areas of implicit bias.

And here’s a terrific list of resources, originally put together by a romance author for other romance authors. But it’s got loads of valuable info for anyone interested in understanding, and rooting out, implicit bias.

Have you discovered any of your own implicit biases? How do you feel implicit bias affects you or the people around you? Please leave a comment below…


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