Bias: a particular tendency or inclination, especially one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice. Racial Bias: a problem throughout America and the world. With articles like What Not to Do at an African Themed Party and the controversies with the Zimmerman trial, how have we not come further in the last 60 years since the U.S. Supreme Court passed its decision to desegregate the United States’ public schools?
There’s a Problem, America.
I wasn’t exposed to very much racial bias growing up in an incredibly small mountain town; my parents never raised me in a way that drew attention to people from my town that weren’t the same color as me. However, since I moved to a city I have witnessed many situations that helped me understand what racial bias is. From harassment of Latinos on the light rail to racial jokes about robberies attributed to black men to the distaste for asian people and their stereotyped intelligence to degrading comments about being white around my school, racial bias is running rampant.
A Long Way in 60 Years?
This picture is claimed to be one of the most “politically charged” photos of the year and truly showing how far we have come from the 60’s.
But have we really come that far? U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder honestly addressed race relations in his speech, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards.” According to Justice Department data, black men were 6 times more likely, and Latino men were 2.5 times more likely, to be imprisoned than white men in 2012. The Associated Press found that the impact of race has not declined over time. They found that 51% of Americans express anti-black attitudes and 52% of non-Hispanic adults express anti-Hispanic attitudes. Of course there are no legally segregated schools in the United States, but many are just that because of the economic opportunities presented to different racial classes. These opportunities impact where they live which impacts what school their children attend or how much money they can afford to spend on a education.
America is Fighting Back.
There have been many news controversies in the past few years about events that are motivated by racial bias, the two most publicized – Donald Sterling and George Zimmerman. After being caught on tape being extremely racially biased towards black people, Donald Sterling stated, “Racism is a culture that we all have to live with.” His actions were preceded by his immediate removal from the league and a very public protest from his players, spectators and many others in the NBA. He was banned from the league and the NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, released a very disapproving statement. Silver states, “The views expressed by Mr. Sterling are deeply offensive and harmful; that they came from an NBA owner only heightens the damage and my personal outrage” and “We stand together in condemning Mr. Sterling’s views. They simply have no place in the NBA.” On top of the lifetime ban, Sterling was fined 2.5 million dollars (the most allowed in the NBA) that will be donated to to organizations dedicated to anti discrimination and tolerance efforts.
Here are players protesting Sterling by wearing their jerseys inside out.
The other prominent controversy was George Zimmerman being found innocent in the shooting of unarmed 17 year old Trayvon Martin using Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” defense. (See our blog post from 2012 explaining Stand Your Ground laws.) This event had many people in the country very upset. President Obama gave an unscripted 17-minute response to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict. The majority of the public’s opinion about this verdict was dismay and injustice.
Here are some protests and reactions from the public.
Celebrities also chimed in. Here’s a tweet from rap singer Mac Miller:
This was followed by backlash with CNN for interviewing Zimmerman. Other news stations like Fox News stated “it’s understandable that plenty of people never want to see his (George Zimmerman’s) face again.” Since then there have been many cases brought to the public about people who used the “Stand Your Ground” defense in far more dangerous situations who are serving many years to life in prison. Here’s an article about how race plays a role in Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
Here is a sampling of the different bills proposed having to do with racial bias in the U.S. today:
But When is it Too Far?
“We must confront race, admit racism still exists and discuss how it plays out in our society — without being accused of playing the race card or engaging in racial demagoguery” Hector Villagra author at LA Progressive stated. There are many aspects to racial bias that aggravate everyone, Arab, Asian, Black, Caucasians, Hispanic, Jews, Muslims and Christians alike – what is and is not politically correct. Everyone in this day in age is very concerned about not offending anyone with what they “label” them as, out of respect to different ethnicities and types of people.
However, being politically correct is difficult at times because its hard to know how people identify themselves. There is a very important difference between being Spanish and Latino or Mexican and Chilean. Some black people don’t identify as African-American. It is challenging to know all of these differences and how people identify themselves unless you ask – at the risk of possibly sounding racially biased. This begs the question in my mind- why do people need to be “called” anything? Why do we still use heritage or skin color for identification? Its not that it isn’t important where people come from, because often times it is an incredibly important influence in our lives, but why does the black person we work with have to be identified by his race when we talk about him?
Is Racial Biased Inferred, There, or Disguised as Something Else?
After analyzing my own life, I have a situation that I would like to talk about. The other day I was home in the mountains getting gas at dusk all by myself when a middle-aged black man smoking a cigarette approached me to ask about a concert occurring a few miles away. Immediately I felt uncomfortable, but I had a pleasant conversation with the man and we parted ways. Afterwards I was thinking about the situation and wondering why I felt so uncomfortable. Was it because it was almost dark? Or that I was alone? Or because I’m a very small woman? Or maybe because he was smoking? Or was because he’s black? After I thought about the situation longer, I drew a few conclusions:
- I may have been slightly less uncomfortable if he was a white man because of the preconceived notions I have from society about black men – which during my life I have never had an experience to validate these notions.
- I was being hypercritical thinking about his race because this blog post was on my mind and I was concerned with being perceived as a racist.
- I was uncomfortable because I am a small woman, by myself, in a poorly lit gas station with no one else around.
- I was uncomfortable because I am an asthmatic – cigarette smokes irritates me mentally and physically.
This situation made me really think about racial bias in our culture. There is no doubt that there are many people who are still racially biased to different minorities. However, we are fighting for more equality and acceptance throughout the U.S. and hopefully will continue with these efforts to more equality. There is also a very strong stigma associated with being racist, and this often drives us to be overly conscious about being perceived as racially biased, even if we know that we’re not. Although we have made it a long way from the paper bag test, there is still a long way to go to a society with little to no racial bias.
Here is an infographic detailing the inequality today.