|Vol. 10 No. 15
JULY 23, 2015
More on Implicit Bias
Before I get started with today’s column, I have to correct a date that I had mentioned in my article on the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Walk It
Out. I incorrectly said that they started Walk It Out in 2009 when actually it was started in 2008 when the national sorority urged each chapter
to walk 1908 steps in celebration of the centennial of their founding in 2008. This also gives me the opportunity to urge our readership to come
out for Walk It Out on July 25th, 8:30 a.m. at the Warner Park Community Center and Shelter. Come out for a walk or run, some fitness
exercising and messages and other relaxation activities. My favorite is reflexology where they massage years of wear and tear out of your
feet — or so it seems. It’s a great, free, family-oriented event and a great way to start a summer Saturday. Come on out.
There are times when I am tempted to reach back into the past issues of The Capital City Hues and run a reprint of my column from years past. I
think people are taking a breather from the heightened activism of the past year or so — especially after Tony Robinson’s death — and are
recharging their batteries and getting a little enjoyment out of the summer.
I have been living voyeuristically through the recounting of the vacations of friends and family. I had to pass up a visit to the Field of Dreams
in Iowa with my extended family last Saturday and the reason why is reflected in the stories in this issue. I’ve always wanted to go there and
had to smile at the photos of family members coming out of the cornfield and onto the baseball diamond like Shoeless Joe Jackson in the Field
of Dreams movie.
There are others who have been to Puerto Rico and to Europe and all places global. We are a traveling people. I have hardly left Madison
since the 2013 inauguration of President Barack Obama. I am starting to feel like a stick in the mud. Next January, it will be 10 years since I
had a real vacation without camera and pen in tow. I almost forget what it is like. Maybe after The Hues’ 10th Anniversary Celebration on 06-26-
16, I will take some time off.
But in the meantime, it is time to keep making a living. I’ve been thinking about former Chief Noble Wray’s comments about implicit bias — and
mine that came about as a result of an interview with him and it caused me to think further about how the issue of race impacts us.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, I participated in multicultural training through the Urban League and later on my own. While race sensitivity
training has come a long ways since then — and I don’t know how much of an impact that we had — there were some concepts that we taught
that helped me evaluate what I was doing as I traversed many of Madison’s neighborhoods writing community-based grant proposals and
doing accounting work at a variety of non-profits in the Madison area. And that concept was top-down versus bottom up learning. I think we all
use — or are at least capable of using — both forms of learning.
I feel that top-down learning is a way that we are taught to learn in school. We learn to classify things according to set characteristics and then
we apply what we know about one object to the rest of the objects within that classification.
Top-down classification is necessary for any kind of centralized power or system. People — or things — with these characteristics receive
these benefits or are required to do these things. We set retirement policies and timelines according to the broad characteristic of age
regardless of whether someone really feels the need or is compelled by physical or mental problems to retire. This top-down approach is what
allows governments to govern and nation-states to function.
Our lives are made possible by top-down systems. Traffic laws state from top-down how people should drive. And when people start to go
from the bottom-up, “I thought they should look out for me,” problems can result.
And while top-down learning can have positive results and make our society possible, top-down can also have very negative consequences
when used in every day human interactions because then you are not dealing with the real situation at hand, but with a set of assumed
characteristics based on one characteristic that the other individual may have. You are applying a whole scenario to an individual based on
And that is what implicit bias is all about, in my opinion. Due to the continued segregation of our society — virtually if not physically — people
from different racial or cultural backgrounds may be forced to use broad characteristics to guide them in interpersonal relations. People can
make a whole set of assumptions based on race because, in part, they don’t know anything else and do not know how to move beyond that or
even recognize it.
When we aren’t aware of how that implicit bias impacts us, we can get in deep trouble. That is why it is so important for public servants like
police officers, fire fighters, social workers and others to become aware of implicit bias and how to move beyond it in our interactions with
people from different racial and cultural backgrounds.
The best way to approach other people is from the bottom-up learning about other people. I am fortunate in my role as publisher and editor of
The Capital City Hues that I interact with people from so many different racial and cultural backgrounds that I always have to use a bottom-up
approach to learning about people. That is how I am able to write so many different and I hope interesting stories. I take life one person at a
time and always find out something new about each person I meet. And that is just how I like it.