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Community Coalition on Race Roundtable: 'We're All Susceptible to Bias'

Joe Grogan

Thursday, May 15, 2014 • 8:59am

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Anyone can be biased without realizing it, regardless of their race of gender.

That was the conclusion of those attending the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race roundtable discussion on implicit biases, held at the Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel on Wednesday night.

“People of color discriminate against people of color,” said Anthony Greene, vice chairman of the coalition’s board of trustees. Greene said. “Women discriminate against women if those are the messages they receive. The point is, everyone is susceptible to these sorts of biases.”

The event explored the racial, sexual and other biases that people come into contact with every day but that are not overtly expressed.

“When we talk about implicit biases, it’s not a simple concept,” said Elizabeth Williams-Riley, president and CEO of the American Conference on Diversity. “It’s not something that’s easy to identify. It’s something we do without really thinking about it because they’re ingrained by everyday conditioning.”

Attendees watched a series of videos documenting subtle racial and sexual discrimination and talked about the biases in each as well as their effect on the wider community.

“We’re exposed to something like 150,000 messages every day,” Williams-Riley said. “A lot of these messages deal with things we do not see, so we don’t realize how they change the way we think.”

She said that the goal of the evening was to get participants to question what makes them think the ways they do.

After discussing their findings in small groups, participants shared their reactions with the rest of the attendees.

“We’re all conditioned to think that certain images go into certain ‘boxes’,” Greene said. “And if someone doesn’t know which box to put something in, they don’t know what to think. That’s why people sometimes don’t realize when they’re being biased.”

It is unfortunate that discussions on subconscious discrimination are still necessary, but it is good that the need for them is recognized, according to Williams-Riley.

“It’s important, when we encounter these moments, to think about perception versus reality,” she said.

However, society is slowly more tolerant of people with differing backgrounds, according to one attendee.

"Having grown up in South Orange, it's sad that we still need to have these types of discussions," said Tammarra Jones.  "But I think things are changing qualitatively for the better."

The key to countering implicit biases is for people to explore ideas outside of their comfort zones.

“We must get to know people who are different than us,” said Nancy Gagnier, executive director of the Community Coalition on Race. “We need to get to know them well, and we need to do it often.”

More information about the Community Coalition on Race and their efforts can be found on their website.

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