Implicit Bias & Self-Ignorance

In the gnostic Gospel According to Thomas, Jesus says:

“If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you.”

DANGEROUS & DEADLY

If you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you can be dangerous and even deadly. This holds true for communities as well as individuals.

I will speak of my own white community/communities.
The majority of white people in North America live racially segregated lives.

This segregation prevents most white communities from witnessing firsthand the predictable, brutal treatment by police of Black and brown people. “Business as usual” policing of Black and brown people looks like habitual disrespect and disruption,torture and murder.

Police “business as usual” for white people looks very different. My experience is typical for a white woman. While I do not feel at ease with the police, my lived experience has not led me to expect that the police will gun me down if I reach for my wallet or run away. There is a vast gulf between white and Black (and Native American and Latino) communities’ direct experience with police departments.

This combination of structural segregation and starkly different treatment by police disconnects white communities from communities of color. This double disconnect feeds the collective white self-ignorance about how our own privileged treatment co-arises with the mistreatment of Black people and people of color.

As James Baldwin wrote in 1963 in The Fire Next Time:   “Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”

Thus we see the white consensus mind throughout North America has been expressing outrage over (a minority of) protesters’ vandalism and property damage, instead of outrage over the severing of a Black man’s spine, or the taking of a Black life.

If you are invested in seeing yourself as a good person at all costs, you tend to disavow or forget your unkind actions. If we are invested in seeing the justice system that serves the white community as benevolent at all costs, we tend to overlook the casual cruelty inflicted by police on communities of color. Instead, we blame the victim. White folks like me habitually turn our backs on what is being done in our name, and allow brutality to carry on in our collective shadow.

If you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you.

Black activists and their allies in Ferguson, Baltimore, Oakland and other places are bringing forth what is within the North American policing system.

These activists are bringing into the light the hidden (hidden only to white people) everyday police attitudes-in-action that demean and destroy people of African descent. This consciousness raising is a profound gift to all of us. Bringing forth what is within our communities will save us.

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias is another aspect of self-ignorance. Implicit bias means unconsciously harboring bias and stereotypes against a stigmatized group, such as women, Black people, people with disabilities, etc.

I find implicit racial bias in myself. It pops out of me at the slightest stimulus—for example, if I am in public, and I see a Black person I do not know, I often catch myself checking to see if my wallet is zipped.

Implicit bias is inculcated in childhood. When I was around age seven my father told me that my Ugandan friend Aggie, who was staying with my family, was a liar and a cheat.

As adults we have the power to act out implicit bias in harmful ways, some of us by how we teach students or treat patients, and some of us by how we wield a badge, taser and gun. Some of us present biased news stories.

Bringing forth the implicit racial bias that is within white communities is a life and death matter. What can we do about it?

My Buddhist teacher, Anam Thubten describes something similar to implicit bias: “There is a whole ocean of thoughts and intentions below our awareness that influences our actions and words. In the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, this “ocean” is called Alaya, or storehouse consciousness.

According to Anam Thubten, the remedy for these hidden motivations is meditation. Indeed, the whole purpose of meditation is to become aware of our concealed, deeply rooted tendencies.

As Anam Thubten says, we need to “Invite our hidden thoughts to tea.”

There is some scientific evidence that mindfulness can transform implicit racial bias.

Dealing with that ocean of hidden tendencies is a lifelong, perhaps many lifetimes long process. We cannot expect to catch all of it.

Anam Thubten explains that the “storehouse consciousness” is vast, like an iceberg of unconscious kleshas (mental states that cloud the mind) that are individual, ancestral and collective. Kleshas are meant to be unearthed, acknowledged and digested.

This long-term process of inquiry and purification requires enormous compassion, patience and humor. But we can do our best, and begin now. The stakes are too high not to.

You can schedule a somatic and intuitive coaching appointment (video or in-person) or find out more about Dr. Vanissar Tarakali at  www.vanissar.com

 

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