Two recent studies about subconscious bias really tried to steal my joy this week.
The first study, published in Law and Human Behavior, looked at gender bias and emotion.
The study set up a mock trial with undergraduate students where secretly scripted holdout jurors would have to explain their thinking to the participant, a fellow juror, who had already come to a different decision.
The study found that if a male holdout juror expressed anger, the participant's confidence in their own opinion dropped. But the opposite was true when a female holdout juror expressed the same opinion with anger.
Even though both the male and female holdout juror expressed the same opinion, expressing that opinion with anger undermined the woman's authority while bolstering the man's.
The other study, conducted by UCLA researchers and published in the journal of Evolution and Human Behavior, looked at racial bias around names.
The experiments used 1,500 mostly white participants and read different scenarios involving characters with names like Jamal or Darnell (aka black-sounding names) and Connor or Wyatt (white-sounding names).
Participants in the study overwhelmingly imagined the characters with black-sounding names as large, dangerous, and violent. Additionally, the larger in size they imagined the black-sounding character to be, the lower they imagined his financial success and social status. The results were similar when Latino-sounding names were used.
But when those same scenarios used white-sounding names, the perception was flipped; the larger a character was perceived to be, the higher their social and economic status was perceived to be.
And get this: The participants in the study were generally "left-leaning" politically. In other words, negative stereotypes of black and brown men begins at the mere mention of a name — even for my fellow liberals.
While the results of both studies were discouraging, they were also, unfortunately, not surprising. And that's pretty upsetting.
With the steady stream of news confirming what many of us already know to be true from a lifetime of anecdotal evidence (that bias is real), I'm constantly looking for things to smile about.
So here are three things that remind us that everything will be OK:
1. The demographics are shifting.
We've all heard the news that the country is slowly but surely transforming demographically. More people of color and more women in positions of leadership and power are two of the expected outcomes.
While increased numbers don't automatically mean equality, they do mean there will be a larger body of people to initiate, demand, and participate in change in all elements of society — from government to business to the home.
If I were a bettin' gal, I'd say that most of those people won't have a high tolerance for discrimination. And that's a good thing.
2. There are amazing organizations working to end implicit bias. And they have solutions.
Most people read studies like the two I mentioned above, get frustrated by them, and go on about their days. So it's heartening to know that there are people who are dedicating their lives to exposing and attacking implicit bias. They lobby, create content, and give the rest of us practical ways to help advance equality and root out prejudice in our daily lives.
One of my faves is Perception Institute. They use the latest brain research and creative media to help well-meaning people understand implicit bias around racial identity and live their values.
The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media also does phenomenal work in the entertainment industry to end bias and stereotypes around women in the media.
I sleep better knowing that they are on the case.
3. Despite the harsh reality of implicit bias, it is possible for women and people of color to thrive.
Nooooo, this does not mean that because Martha Stewart and Barack Obama and Oprah "made it," bias doesn't exist. Not only does it exist, the longer it continues, the longer we are all losing out because of it — not just women and people of color, but the entire country, too.
But, as a woman of color, the only way that I can feel powerful enough to go out into the world and chase my dreams in the meantime, while we're working hard to level the playing field, is to get all existential and tell myself that despite all the subconscious biases that might be working against me every single day, I won't allow them to crush my ambition and drive.
Thanks to those who have come before us, we ladies and people have color have plenty examples of what it looks like to face the challenges of bias head on, win (while giving those who discriminated against us a hearty middle finger), and try to make things easier for those coming up next.
In other words, we got this.