August 6, 2020

Remaining Trauma Informed – Collective Trauma Pt. 2: The Unconscious Bias


Written by Phil Bradfield

I hope and pray that everyone continues to grow in the grace and peace of the Lord during this season.  May grace and peace be given you in increasing abundance [that spiritual peace to be realized in and through Christ, freedom from fears, agitating passions, and moral conflicts.] 1Peter 1:2b – AMPC.

As a reminder from part one, the intersection of Black collective trauma and the maintenance of systemic racism, usually subtle, is called unconscious bias.  Unconscious bias is unintended people preferences which are formed by our socialization and personal experiences.  It means we use social stereotypes about certain groups of people, and we form those stereotypes outside of our conscious awareness.  Those stereotypes can work against people of other races, gender, age, etc.

The unconscious bias within each of us comes from social constructs that have been sewn into the fabric of our culture, and therefore contribute to how we were raised and influenced.  These unconscious biases are prejudice  and create blind spots in us.  These biases lead to disparaging and disproportionate problems for the Black community.  For example, mass criminalization, inconsistent sentencing for crimes based on demographic, whites being found not-guilty with minimal consequence, police killings, or discrimination in the workplace (lower pay, lack of representation in key leadership positions, hairstyle guidelines to prevent employees from appearing “too ethnic”).  When considering unconscious bias, it becomes understandable how collective and intergenerational trauma has been maintained.  The outward manifestation of unconscious bias continues to function as oppression in Black communities.

You may remember in part one, I wrote about a personal experience I had during my Master’s program in a multicultural diversity class.  During that same class, I had a second experience that I want to share regarding unconscious bias.  Our professor was an African American male, and all of the students were black or white. He had us take an implicit association test on race, which basically assesses your preferences.  These assessments can be geared toward race, gender, age, etc. (you can find these online for free – Harvard offers several).  The results were shocking to everyone in the class, because everyone got similar results.  Even the African American student’s scores reflected preference for lighter skin tones.  We spent several hours processing the results together as a class, and it was shocking because we all had to come to realize that our preferences are so ingrained in our culture, largely because of unconscious bias, that even the Black students scored similar to the white students.  I remember one African American cohort asserting that the assessment could not possibly be valid, and our professor laughed and pointed out that every student took the same test and got similar results, so the assessment is certainly valid.  What happened next was a big moment for me personally, because that same student asked the white students, ‘what do you all think makes you have the preferences that you do?’  After an awkward silence, I realized there was no way to discuss this and maintain comfort, so in my discomfort I said I would answer.  I said that I did not know what everyone’s faith consisted of in the class, but that I believe in the God of the Bible (this was a secular school).  I stated that I believe God looks at the heart, and not the outward appearance (1 Sam 16:7).  So my explanation based on my faith was that the assessment preference results represented some of the sinful parts of my fallen nature, which God is still redeeming.  I was uncomfortable, but honest, and left class that day in the peace and grace of the Lord.

Part of our response to all that is happening in our nation is going to be spiritual warfare, which I think has two components to remember.  One, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12).  These unconscious biases will over time, set themselves up as strongholds in our minds that go against the knowledge of God…that everyone has been made in the image of God regardless of race (see 2 Cor. 10:3-5).  When conducting ourselves, it is imperative that we ask the Lord to see people’s hearts, with His eyes, which is a good and humble reminder not to count on ourselves and our experiences, but to trust in Him.  Two, “stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth” (Eph. 6:14).  The connotation of the belt of truth is deeper than the spoken word of truth; it also means sincerity and straightforwardness.  When someone would lift their tunic up to run, they had to tuck it into their belt.  Pulling up the tunic to move fast meant more of you would be exposed.  In other words the belt of truth means being real, authentic, and vulnerable.  Just saying it like it is, truthfully.

A few weeks ago, the Lord led me to a few passages of scripture about our response.  Psalm 89:14 says, “righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; mercy and truth go before your face.”  What a beautiful image, but what happens when humankind rejects truth, denies justice, and chooses to live unrighteously?  I think we end up living under Isaiah 59:14 conditions, “justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street.”  As soon as I read that passage I felt prompted and remembered another: Proverbs 23:23a states, “buy the truth, and do not sell it.”  What is God saying through these passages, as well as wearing the belt of truth authentically and vulnerably?  My sense is that He is inviting us to partner with Him to rescue truth, but it will cost us something.  It comes through dealing with unconscious bias in a genuine, vulnerable way, and the cost will be discomfort.

Discomfort does not mean life will remain as such.  In fact I would argue that getting uncomfortable for the sake of unity and race reconciliation will add more hope.  My prayer for us all is that we let go of any desire to “return to normal,” and go deeper into Christ in the midst of trying times.



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