Unconscious Bias and Inclusive Environment
The recent public debate around the portrayal of Serena William and Naomi Osaka by a Herald Sun’s cartoonist has ignited conversation about racism and racial portrayal. Some argued that it’s the job of a cartoonist to exaggerate physical features and be satirical, while others pointed to the long historical portrayal of African American that were (and continue to) intended to denigrate, disempower and dehumanise an entire population. It also sparked debate about free speech, artistic freedom, as well as artistic responsibility, race relations and social injustice.
Without getting involved too much into the debate, one thing is rather clear for me about the impact of unconscious bias on the way we perceive and portray others. As members of society, we are not immune from the historical past that continue to shape the way we see, feel, and think of others. There are many examples on how caricatures were intended to harm and marginalise a population, such as the way African American and Blackness have been portrayed, as well as the Jewish population, Indigenous Australians, and Chinese migrants in Australia to name a few. Such caricatures were, and continue to be, hurtful as it reaffirms the enslavement and inferiority of a specific group to justify the social, cultural, and political superiority of the dominant group that feed into social injustice.
Many people don’t realise that such portrayal, representation, and caricature permeate our consciousness as we have been exposed and influenced by these images. Unconscious bias is the process whereby negative stereotypes are being applied to a particular group without a clear and rationale realisation. All of us are affected by unconscious bias, as our consciousness is shaped by the dominant ideology that exists in a specific society. It influences our first, 10 seconds impression of a particular individual based on their race, ethnicity, gender, appearance, ability and many more. It also has an impact in workplace policies, culture, and environment.
The challenge is to recognise our own biases and to ensure that we act accordingly. This discussion seems to be missing in the debates surrounding the infamous cartoon. Many people seem to not realise the influence of historical portrayal of race and gender that may have been unconsciously applied when drawing the caricature. Similarly, many people are often unaware the impact of unconscious bias on our day-to-day interaction. This could be in the form of the way we speak, our body language, our inner perceptions and our attitudes that have been influenced by social stereotypes.
Indeed, at Ananda Training & Consultancy, unpacking unconscious bias is key in understanding intersectionality and creating an inclusive environment. It is the first step to challenge our (mis)perceptions of others so they don’t influence our policies, practices, behaviours and environment. It requires us to challenge our own biases and to understand the origin of these stereotype and its harmful intention. It can be a confronting exercise to do, but essential if we are to truly embrace diversity.
Whilst the conversation and debate about the portrayal of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka continue, it is an opportunity for us to listen and learn about historical and intergenerational trauma that minority groups have been experiencing through negative
portrayal and caricature. It is also a chance for us to unpack our own unconscious bias and ensure that we are not guided by it. It requires us to exercise caution, understanding, and safety to create a truly inclusive environment.
Let’s stop the wheel of prejudice from keep on spinning.
Views reflected in this blog is drawn from personal observation and opinion.