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From unconscious to conscious

In this article, find out how a seemingly innocent action that happened in school, led to unconscious bias presenting itself in a real life example.
© University of Reading
There’s still debate about the reliability of the Implicit Association Tests mentioned in Step 1.7, but as one of the researcher’s argues – just because there’s debate about the subject – it doesn’t imply the phenomenon isn’t real. With this in mind, consider this real-life example of a lunchtime controller at work:
A lunchtime controller at a large secondary school was accused of being a racist by a number of pupils. The deputy head went to observe the person at lunch time. The lunchtime controller’s role was to ensure the dinner queue was orderly, and the pupils approached the serving hatch in small groups, with no crowding or rudeness. The deputy head noted that the person greeted all the pupils, was polite and moved them on in an orderly fashion. The deputy head could not see there was any racism, or what the problem was, especially as the pupils were being spoken to and spoken to politely.
However, the complaints of racism continued. So, another member of staff went and observed. They also noted that the lunchtime controller spoke to all the pupils equally and was chatty with them all, regardless of who they were. However, this member of staff also noted that the lunchtime controller showed affection by giving a tap of endearment but only to the white pupils, and not to any pupils of other ethnicity. When asked about this, the controller said that they didn’t feel comfortable touching them because they were unsure if it was the norm in their culture to be touched.
The lunchtime controller wasn’t intentionally being racist, but their actions which was caused by lack of knowledge or understanding about other cultures, made it seem like that their actions were indeed of a racist nature.
It’s difficult to change behaviour if you’re not aware of how you’re behaving. Hopefully, as you worked through the last few Steps, you’re now aware of something called the unconscious bias where you can look at yourself more closely. You can decide to watch yourself in different situations and reflect on how you behave, the gestures you make, what you say or how you stand.
To help overcome any unconscious biases, here are some tips you may find useful:
  • Being honest and aware of your own biases will help keep the negative ones in check, and ensure your decision making is based on actual knowledge.
  • Question your motivation for everything you do.
  • Without knowing the circumstances of the individual or group, try and remain impartial and empathetic to them.
  • When you feel very strongly about something, check why you feel this way.
  • Take tally charts of your contact with the pupils and check whether you’re giving equal attention to all or a lot to some and little to others.
  • Take a tally chart of your contact with girls and boys and check as above.
  • If you’re more exposed to other groups of people this will help challenge and reduce bias views.
  • Pay attention to the decisions you make when you’re in a challenging situation.
What do you think you’re going to do differently? Is there a particular area you need to improve or be more aware of?

Our course tip

Keep an eye at the bottom of each Step for any further reading under the heading ‘See also’, or resources under the heading ‘Downloads’.
© University of Reading
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