Racism and misogyny are both learned cultural assumptions stored in our subconscious and passed on via tradition. This makes them virally contagious.
They differ from viral biological infections in that they are so resistant to attempts to kill them that, if we compare COVID-19, for example, to racism and misogyny, it would mean that we could treat the COVID-19 virus and have some positive effect, but we could never eliminate it, and there would be times when it would come roaring back in its worst form. And because we can never eradicate misogyny and racial prejudice and they are so deeply embedded in our cultural traditions, fully understanding the nature of these biases is critical for police officers, evidenced by the fact that accusations and lawsuits of against police officers claiming racial prejudice and discrimination by women and minorities are ubiquitous.
Because we can never eradicate misogyny and racial prejudice and they are so deeply embedded in our cultural traditions, fully understanding the nature of these biases is critical for police officers.
Twenty-six years ago, Laurie Garrett published The Coming Plague. In the introduction she said, “To comprehend the interactions between Homo sapiens and the vast and diverse microbial world, perspectives must be forged that meld such disparate fields as medicine, environmentalism, public health, basic ecology, primate biology, human behavior, economic development, cultural anthropology, human rights law, entomology, parasitology, virology, bacteriology, evolutionary biology, and epidemiology.”
In Blue Bias I have listed a similar merging of divergent fields because such an approach is necessary to keep specialization from leading to a general sense of imbecility when it comes to understanding the complexity of human behavior that cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker warned us about when we leave these subjects to the specialization of experts. Policing and too many disciplines and fields to list exclude many subjects that are relevant but never come up when they should, and because of this, we don’t pay near enough attention to how our minds deal with experiences and beliefs.
Our brains record our life experience 24/7 and this memory of experience is stored in our subconscious, where it signals us in the form of intuition to rationalize what is the case of our life experience, instead of the way we think things should be. The reason this is so hard to detect is that it’s more like a nudge than a conviction. In other words, if we have grown up in a culture in which minorities have been routinely stigmatized as if they are inferior in some way, then, even if we don’t agree consciously with the negative biased assumption, our feelings from our life experience are likely to subtly influence us toward rationalizing our opinions in sync with our subconscious.
Explicit racism is openly expressed prejudice with malice against individuals and groups of people, while explicit misogyny is openly hostile expressions about the roles of females in society which may indeed contain a hatred toward women. Implicit racial prejudice and implicit misogyny amount to unconscious assumptions learned through life experience because our brains record what we think we see and hear, not what we think should be.
Lawsuits filed by citizens claiming they have been treated with racial bias by police officers, and women police officers claiming bias when it comes to being promoted occur constantly and there appears to be no letup in the future for this kind of behavior. The sad thing is that you can explain how negative bias works, that it is based upon subconscious life experience and most people get it: they will often agree that it makes sense, and then in the next breath default to thinking as before without realizing that in order to work without being subject to the influence of their subconscious and unacknowledged beliefs requires a constant awareness of how implicit bias works. If one goes back to business as usual a negative bias will show up statistically in sync with the lawsuits that follow.
Comparing racism and misogyny with the COVID-19 virus again, we can expect that at some point in the future there will be a vaccine for the virus, and it will likely be eradicated. Not so though with racism and misogyny because the hope for a vaccine-like effect is dependent upon a thorough understanding of the nature of bias along with a determined effort to overcome negative biases. And having studied these subjects for a very long time I can safely say that if you haven’t studied these prejudices intensively, then you can’t possibly know how to overcome them. Knowledge is the antidote to negative biases: intensive and extensive knowledge, and, as mentioned in the book subtitle, learning and resolve is the best metaphoric vaccine we have.
Charles D. Hayes
Charles D. Hayes is the author of Blue Bias: An Ex-Cop Turned Philosopher Examines the Learning and Resolve Necessary to End Hidden Prejudice in Policing.