Recognizing Implicit Biases in Ourselves

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July 10, 2020 by Dr. Robbie Barber

This post is week 4 of 8 in the #8WeeksofSummer Blog Challenge for educators. The prompt is: “How do/will you address implicit bias at your school?”

Implicit bias means that “people can act on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes without intending to do so” (Brownstein, 2019, Abstract). These unconscious biases affect everyone. The key is to recognize and then address these feelings so that you bring them to forefront of discussion. The act of naming your own biases helps you address them. Biases can be based on skin color, birth place, religion, gender, and a myriad of other items. Remember, they are not conscious unless you spend time trying to identify them.

Rather than address the implicit biases in my school, I think it’s a more important exercise to identify the implicit biases I have and deal with them. At the end of May, I attended the keynote for the School Library Journal Day of Diaglog (video) with Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram Kendi about their book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You. I came out of that keynote with a number of notes and two big discoveries. The first discovery was that I do not get to call myself antiracist. It is not a title I can claim – someone else has to hand it to me. And, a corollary is that I am never truly all the way antiracist. It is something I have to work at every day for the rest of my life. The second discovery was the reading (of course!) materials like Stamped can act as antibodies to my unconscious racist leanings. It can be hard to read (due to the material, not the writing), but that it can help me recognize my personal views and guard me against other infections of racism. In this case, reading acts like a vaccine.

I put in a Donor’s Choose project a few days after the keynote to request a copy of the book for each of the teachers and staff. While I want to flood my students with this book, I recognize that handing them the book without guidance won’t actually help the students. And, if we start with the teachers becoming vaccinated, it will become a part of each of the students at the school – across the curriculum. My project was funded by both many members of the community and from people around the country. I am now working with others, including administrators, to create the best way for teachers to read and understand the book.

I do want to address one implicit bias by many school districts – the one that says that school teacher-librarians are not necessary to students or teachers or administrators. According to this article in EdWeek, one in five school librarian jobs were lost since the last recession. Yet, faced with an emergency remote learning situation, it was the school librarians who stepped up, collated information, organized online book sources, and provided technical support to their teachers, to name a few things. The list of work I did is only partially captured in my End-of-Year Report. Some school district administrators seem to have an implicit or unconscious bias that does not fully accept teacher-librarians as teachers, even though the position usually requires a master’s degree. I encourage everyone to read the blog from the National Association of Secondary School Principals that says “Librarians are experts in inquiry, inclusivity, collaboration, curating resources, exploration, innovation, and engagement. They help students to think, create, share, and grow.”

We all need to identify and deal with our own biases. It is not a one-time thing, but an ongoing growth project for each and every one of us.


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