World Trust

Addressing Unconscious Bias Tip #2: Depersonalizing Inequity

Posted by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong on September 18, 2014


One of the strongest perpetuators of the system of racial inequity is unconscious bias. As diversity trainers and educators, it is crucial to find ways to interrupt this bias so as to pave the way for change.

Transformative learning asks adult learners to engage in critical reflection on their experiences and learned beliefs, for the purpose of deconstructing embedded assumptions about how the world works. 

At World Trust, we have found that transformative learning is the perfect pedagogy for addressing unconscious bias. In our latest series, we'll look at six elements that can be included in your diversity activities, harnessing the power of transformative learning to combat unconscious bias.

Depersonalizing Inequity: Use a systemic frame.
Framing race gives people access to a lens that allows them to see the bigger picture. At the same time, it develops a common understanding and language with which to explore inequity. This is critical for supporting analysis, as well as for participants to be able to ask the question, “What is really happening here, and why?”

It is impossible to tackle the structural causes of inequity until this is clear. Once it is, participants can see that inequity is not caused by ‘bad people.’ Instead, it is a self-perpetuating system.

Why Reframe?
When we seek to interrupt unconscious bias, framing the system helps depersonalize the topic. Taking the focus off of individuals and redirecting it towards the system is a disarming step that can do a couple of things:

1) Prepare participants to see the ways in which they have been taught to hold bias. They can recognize that despite good intentions, they may be affected by the lie of individual merit as the key reason for success, or the idea that they “don’t see color.” 

2) Make it easier to see how internalized beliefs become embedded in institutions, which perpetuate inequity through rules, policy, and custom. It is tempting to think that interrupting unconscious bias will address inequity on its own. In fact, there are systems and structures in place that require collective action: in addition to personal work, we need systemic understanding for appropriate intervention.

In the core module of Beyond Our Wildest Dreams: Racial Equity Learning Modules, for example, participants are introduced to the graphic above that explains the flow of the system of inequity. That system has internal and external components that reinforce each other. They are impacted by history, culture, and identity.

The Takeaway
It is important to acknowledge that we are born into a system we did not create. However, we are all accountable for change. This is empowering, and helps to shift the energy from guilt to action.

Want to learn more about our Racial Equity Learning Modules? For more information, please click here. Curious about the rest of the tips in this series? Download them all for free below!

Download "Addressing Unconscious Bias" from World Trust