Come Help Me Be Less Racist

Wednesday, October 21, 2015
by Michael Hamill Remaley, SVP, Public Policy & Communications
This piece was originally published as the feature article of the October 2015 issue of the New York PhilanthroPost Policy Edition.
Come Help Me Be Less Racist
As the song says, “We’re All a Little Bit Racist.” And sexist.  And Homophobic. And Xenophobic. And the list goes on.  You can’t be a human being in our world, viewing our media, growing up in our flawed families and cultures, and within a national history of vast injustice, without having the tiny bits of coding in our brains that makes us think and act the way we do, no matter how much we believe in justice and fairness. 
That’s implicit bias.  
Also referred to as implicit social cognition, implicit bias reflects the attitudes and stereotypes we all carry around imbedded in our brains that affect our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. They come out in our decisions and actions even though they are beneath our awareness and outside of our intentional control.  These implicit associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very young age and build through exposure to direct and indirect messages. 
While the vast majority of those working in philanthropy are committed to ameliorating the effects of our unjust history, we are nonetheless subject to implicit bias in our lives and in our work. But even though implicit bias operates at a subconscious level, that doesn’t mean there is nothing we can do about it.  
Monday, November 9 from 3:00-5:00pm
How Does Implicit Bias Influence Philanthropic Effectiveness?
As the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy highlighted in the Spring 2015 edition of its quarterly newsletter, there are specific steps philanthropic professionals can take to reduce implicit bias in their organization’s actions. On November 9, Philanthropy New York will host a hands-on, participatory workshop that will help members explore implicit bias in life and work and help think about concrete ways to improve our work systems to begin to circumvent those biases. 
I am very much looking forward to this session because it will be a safe space for learning and asking hard questions of myself.  The discussion will be led by Jeanné Isler of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy and john a. powell of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at UC Berkeley. 
Our speakers will lead an interactive session exploring the definitions of implicit bias, how it affects all of us as individuals, and how it impacts the decisions and trends in our philanthropic institutions. The unconscious messages we receive that shape our beliefs and reactions are often discussed in terms of race, but this workshop will explore how implicit bias also affects our perceptions about the size of organizations, leaders of organizations, and other identifying factors. 
At the top of the list of the list of strategies to reduce bias is to “Doubt Objectivity.” Powell says, “Seeing yourself as objective actually tends to increase the role of implicit bias; teaching people about nonconscious thought processes ultimately allows us to guard against biased evaluations.” I know I could use some practice doubting my own objectivity, so I’m looking forward to learning with colleagues who are also interested in testing themselves and making progress.
I hope you will join me as we explore how our brains really work and begin to formulate actions and processes that will begin to reduce the effects of implicit bias in philanthropy.  


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