February 2, 2014 by David K. Sutton
Race in America: Conservative Angst For President Obama, And Owning Up To Our Biases
WARNING: Honesty Ahead
Fresh off of writing yesterday that “liberals are judgmental too,” I’m back with more talk of bias in American politics.
Yes, Liberals Are Judgmental Too — We are all human, and therefore we cannot entirely escape bias, but what we can do is be self-aware enough to avoid supporting legislation that would condemn others.
Let me rephrase that: We are all human, and therefore we cannot entirely escape our biases, but what we can do is be self-aware enough to avoid the worst of human behavior that stems from those biases. We tend to focus on the positive attributes in things we favor, and focus on the negative attributes in things we don’t. And the reason why we favor something, or someone, or a group of people, can usually be traced to race, religion, gender, or political ideology, to name a few of the big ones.
So this brings me to the hyperbolic opposition that President Obama faces on a daily basis. There’s no question that each president is subjected to a shit-storm of nonsense from his opponents, but since Obama is our first black president, does that mean the opposition he faces is always racist? Of course not. But do many white conservatives in America show bias against Obama because of what makes Obama unique (his race) when compared to all previous U.S. presidents? I think we know the answer to this question, even if many don’t care to admit it, and even if it means being on the receiving end of right-wing vitriol. But is this racism?
This is where we should welcome nuance over absolutism. And this is also where honestly would go a long way towards better understanding what is going on here.
I know there are many more liberals who have racial bias then care to admit. I know I have racial bias even though I don’t like to admit it. I can’t change how I was raised, and I can’t change my past life experiences that created the neural connections in my brain that make me who I am. What I can control is how I react to biases, and the first step is being self-aware of my own biases. After all, if we are going to have an honest discussion, that means being honest about what we know about ourselves, and not ignoring the underlying biases that could be driving our decision-making. That’s the best we can do as human beings.
When I say I have racial bias, what does that mean? To explain it at it’s most basic level, it means I have initial stereotypical thoughts that enter my brain in a given situation that creates a bias in favor of whites, and yet I know this is wrong as soon as it occurs. What I hope I never do is let this bias affect the social policies I support, or the politicians I vote for. And maybe this will sound condescending to some, but I know not everyone is so honest about their own biases, and they certainly don’t plan to spend much time thinking about them, and that’s a problem.
So now that I’ve admitted to my own bias (which I believe most of us have on some level), does this mean I’m a racist? If we believe the definition of racism to be absolute and all encompassing then maybe the answer to that question could be yes, but little in life is absolute. I think our actions mean more than our initial thoughts, and so that standard should be applied to the white conservatives who display nonstop angst for President Obama. But it’s always going to be a matter of degree, and therefore subject to interpretation, so I’m not sure we can say definitively when someone crosses the line from ingrained bias to full-on racism, but there are some things we can definitely call racist.
Clearly if someone is openly and vocally spewing racial hate language, it’s probably safe to call them a racist. But that’s easy to dismiss, and while hurtful to the people it is directed against, this kind of overt racism rarely impacts social policy and legislation the way it did in the past. The problem in 2014 America is the concealed racism, and sometimes even worse, the hidden racial biases that people don’t recognize in their everyday decision-making.
This kind of covert racial bias infects everything, and it is this kind of bias that allows social injustices to continue even though we say we aren’t racist and that we support improving the lives of all Americans. But until everyone is willing to own up to his or her own biases, injustices like income disparity, education inequality, and dissimilar incarceration rates, will continue.