Saturday, September 15, 2018

Blind Spot

I'm currently reading Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Banaji and Greenwald. Here are some of my rambling notes as I read through it...

It's going slowly, as I take more time with nonfiction. I've taken the "tests" they have for us, and I'm proud to share my results:
And even better?

I can now breathe again. I wonder, however, how my results may have turned out 5 years ago. Or ten. Or fifteen. I hope they would always be the same. My mom had to be the one to tell me I "couldn't be with" certain people... I wonder how my parents would do on these?


The above was published on this blog on August 26th...
Here's a bit more information from September 9th that irks the heck out of me...

Weapons pictured in this test were not just guns, but weapons that have strong historical associations with European cultures.

And a quote from pgs 105-106 in Blindspot:
First, the automatic Black = weapons association is much stronger among all groups who took the test - White, Asian, Hispanic, and even African American - than is suggested by surveys that asked questions about this association. Second, the size of this automatic stereotype varies noticeably by groups - it is largest in Whites and Asians, next largest in Hispanics, and smallest in African Americans. But even African Americans show a modest Black = weapons stereotype.
Black men are well aware that those around them associate them with violence, often including other Black Americans themselves, who carry the stigmatizing belief to a lesser extent than Whites and Asians. They experience it every day, whether they are walking down a street, trying to hail a cab, entering a store, applying for a job, for housing, for a loan. Many have developed explicit strategies to signal that they are harmless. ...
And then... as I was taking the next one, I could FEEL my unconscious (subconscious?) kicking in, and knew I'd have a bias for this one, even though I'd JUST READ that 64.2 million women and 63.4 million men are non-farm payroll employees. AND... my husband stays home and I go to work! (To be fair, though, he did work and is now retired.)

From the book again:
Despite the fact that a massive cultural and economic change has resulted in 50 percent of the workforce in the United States now being female, there has been much less of a change in who occupies the role of primary caregiver at home. ... So even though the workplace is now populated by as many women as men, we suspect that stereotypes remain present because of the strong and dominating presence of women in the home sphere and the strong and dominating position of men in the highest status positions at work (112). This result [mine above, and most people's] isn't especially surprising. After all, as discussed..., men still dominate in the world of work, and women still dominate domestic life (115).
The data from the gender-career IAT show that about 75 percent of male respondents display the automatic gender stereotype of male = work and female = family. Leading them by a little, 80 percent of women show the same automatic stereotype! ...  [To help some of us feel better, the authors added this next bit of information...] Decade by decade, the younger the test takers are, the weaker is this automatic gender bias (115).
This, to me, is easier to understand than the bias I held above with Black = weapons. What still bugs me, is my bias that American = White; this I found out earlier in the book, and it's still kicking my butt.

Also, I'm thinking of my current students. Which may I have not talked with much yet because I figure they're more into athletics than reading and writing? Which may I have not paid as much attention to because I figure their parents may not be as involved? Keeping my eyes open...


This bit was eye-opening...
The use of language to establish identity was nicely demonstrated in a recent study led by Andy Baron at Harvard University. In his study, three- to five-year-olds were shown pictures of two groups of cartoon characters, one colored purple, the other red. One group did rotten things such as break toys and cause car crashes, while the other did nice things such as help others. If the children merely saw these differently colored and differently behaving characters, they didn't seem to assign them a group identity. But if they were given names for the two groups ("These are the Nifs," "These are the Lups") they quickly figured out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys. In other words, at that age, the differences in the appearance of the two sets of characters (purple versus red) were not automatically seen as cues to group membership. But once the groups had names, the children became aware of the differences between them and understood that they belonged in different categories. This is the beginning of stereotyping (131-132).
I. Love. This. It makes so much sense! And I hate it just the same. We are hard-wired to categorize. We are hard-wired to label. It's part of our being.

Racial identity affects our interactions with others in so many ways. We may have negative experiences with one person of a particular race, and it will affect our unconscious about that group of people - just based on their color. Reactions such as these used to be used by our minds to help us survive - certain __________ used to be categorized in our minds as "safe" or "dangerous." But in present day, this hard-wired response has lost its relevance:
In the modern world, where friendships, collaborations, businesses, and entire economies span the globe in a highly networked web of interdependence, the ability to create alliances that bypass boundaries of race, nationality, and culture can have bearing on our well-being, our prosperity, our productivity - and perhaps even our survival (135).
We NEED people. Of all colors, races, opinions. We need to learn from everyone we meet.


This bit was also disturbing. There's a chapter in Blind Spot about "Us & Them." The authors make a good point about how we help those that are most like us, and discriminate against those that are not - by NOT helping them as much. Here's one story shared...
Carla Kaplan was an assistant professor of American literature at Yale in the late 1980s, a serious young scholar in her late twenties who looked even younger than her actual age. Carla was also a dedicated quilter. While working with patches of cloth, she could be transported to faraway places of pattern and color, oblivious to all but the world she was creating.
One evening, Carla slit her hand from accidentally dropping a crystal bowl while she was washing it. Her boyfriend took her to the emergency room of the university affiliated Yale-New Haven Hospital.
At the ER, Carla's boyfriend made it clear to the resident physician on duty that Carla's quilting was very important to her and that he feared the injury might impair the fine motor control she needed for this activity she loved so much. The doctor seemed to understand this concern and expressed confidence that all would be well if they could just "stitch it up quickly."
As the doctor prepared Carla's hand for the stitches, a student volunteer who had been working nearby recognized Carla and exclaimed, "Professor Kaplan! What are you doing here?" and this sentence seemed to stop the doctor in his tracks. "Professor?" he asked. "You're a professor at Yale?" Within seconds Carla found herself on a gurney, being escorted to the hospital's surgery department. The best hand surgeon was called in, and a team worked for hours to restore Carla's hand to perfection (141)... 
The us / them discrimination was due, this time, to where they work. Sometimes, the discrimination rears its head by inaction - the absence of helping. I feel this relates to those I'm connected to at my work and in my Twitter PLN. I mentioned it a bit in this post about my own personal Twitter rules, and I'm going to try to explain here...

If anyone were to look at those I follow, they'd notice I am mostly connected to white educators. Is this a fault of my conscious? I doubt it. I think it's the fault of where I reside, who has connected with me, what it says on people's Twitter bios, and what I might miss or see on any given day. I'll blame my Twitter habits, too. When a teacher from my PLN tags me in a request to either donate or share their Donors Choose project, I do not retweet their request, and I feel terrible for at least a week. I feel terrible for not retweeting it, because, really, what could it hurt? But my brain thinks this - If I retweet this, this person might get a lot of donations due to the number of teachers following me. I don't see this as fair to those who are not connected as much on Twitter. When I read this section of "us and them," I could see that my choice to retweet would be, in a sense, making the rich richer. This made me feel better about my decision to not retweet requests for funds. Donating is a very personal decision for many people, and I want to help the least fortunate, and I do my research before contributing. When I think of Carla's story above, I don't want to NOT help others who may need the same help.

I don't know if I'm making sense, or if I'm rambling. I just hate the notion that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and I believe it's happening to me. I am making more money now than ever before, and that, perhaps, has allowed me to write and publish a book, meaning I make even more money (some may see this amount as significant, and others not so much). Because I was born into a family whose parents worked, and I went through a solid school district, I was able to pay my way through college and get this good-paying job myself. I currently live ten miles away from where I grew up. Many circumstances and decisions have gotten me here. Many roads have been passed while others have been taken. I am a product of opportunity, choices, and effort. If I'm going to help others, I'd rather be helping those who are a product of not-so-much opportunity. I do not want to contribute to what the authors call "hidden discrimination," and yet I know I already have.
Discrimination is hard to perceive because it does not present itself in obvious comparisons, where we must decide in a single moment whether to help one or the other. These behaviors happen in sequence, allowing the fact that one was helped and the other not to remain in our blindspot (142).
The importance of Carla's story is that by capturing not just acts of commission but acts of omission, we expand our sense of how hidden bias operates. It also allows us to see that the people responsible for such acts of omission are, like the doctor who is the main actor in this story, by and large good people who believe that helping is admirable. So far as we can tell, the doctor was a responsible and caring professional who had no conscious intention to discriminate against Carla the quilter. Nevertheless, he did discriminate and the harm that could have been done to Carla's hand had she not been recognized as a member of the in-group is a real one. 
How to outsmart the machine known as the brain? They haven't yet found a way, but the authors are confident there will be much more research, as they've seen temporary results from minor experiments. One thing we can do - put (literal) blinders on when possible. One more - expose ourselves to as many different people as we can. Those that defy the stereotypes would be the best for starters. And while we're at it, let's expose our children to as many different children (and their parents) as we can!

I'm exhausted. In a good way. My brain took a hit while reading Blind Spot, as the stories the authors shared made me read and re-read closer many times over. I'm so glad I read this book, and I'm looking forward to trying to explain parts of it to others when the occasion arises.