bias

Dismantling Gender Bias

Illustration by Jon Krause

Illustration by Jon Krause

AS WE APPROACH A PRESIDENTIAL election in which each candidate’s gender is sure to be discussed, it’s worth evaluating the automatic assumptions we—yes, all of us—make when it comes to women, men, and the meaning we attribute to gender. These assumptions include everything from outright sexism to subtler forms of gender bias, such as the knee-jerk association of men with “competence” and “gravitas,” women with “incompetence” and “emotion.”

“The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle,” writes Rebecca Solnit in the title chapter of Men Explain Things to Me, a 2014 collection of essays that helped coin the term “mansplain.” “This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets.”

I would add, of course, that this battle also takes place in the church, our spiritual homes. After all, for women this is a struggle that’s older than feminism, perhaps as old as our faith traditions themselves. So how, exactly, can we end the battle?

The answer, it seems, lies in understanding the difference between explicit and implicit bias, the former resulting from deliberate stereotypes, the latter a growing topic in social science that doesn’t absolve us of guilt but helps us understand how biases of all kinds have been so difficult to identify, name, and change.

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What Jesus Can Teach Us About Confronting Racism In Ourselves

Black Lives Matter protest in Washington, D.C.

Protesters march against police shootings and racism during a rally in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 13, 2014, Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com

In the wake of Sandra Bland’s death, I’ve seen comments from other white Christians on social media defending the arresting officer, denying that Sandra Bland was mistreated, blaming her for what happened, and denying that race had anything to do with what happened to her. Their responses were so knee-jerk automatic that I probably could have written them ahead of time before learning anything specific about the events in question. We humans can be quite tribal, and we instinctively tend to identify with the people who are most like us.

Many whites balk at the suggestion that their views and assumptions might be racist because they know themselves to be moral people who live decent lives and maybe even have some black friends. They certainly don’t hate anybody, and they aren’t supporters of the Ku Klux Klan. Because they understand racism on an individual rather than systemic level, it seems impossible to hold together an image of oneself that contains both “good person” and “racist.”

Recharting Our Course

USERS OF MAPS—that’s all of us—may suppose that what we see is factual, accurate, bias-free. Of course location, distance, elevation, and comparative importance are reliably shown!

Not so fast, says social activist and pastor Ward L. Kaiser. A map may be “right” in some ways but still dangerous to the way we live in the world.

Why? Because maps are layered with meaning. Surprisingly, their most important messages may lie beneath the surface. In his full-color book How Maps Change Things, Kaiser helps the reader to dig in and discover some of those hidden, mind-bending messages.

As a college chaplain I am acutely, sometimes painfully, aware of the often-hidden narratives and symbols that define us as individuals and as a culture. This book has helped me analyze how maps—an increasingly pervasive form of symbolic messaging and storytelling in our time—connect us to power and privilege or consign us to society’s also-rans.

Examples make the case: An intriguing regional map developed for schools in Cuba raises the question of how this image contributes to that nation’s distorted view of the U.S. A secret map of Iraq drawn up in Washington so shifted our perception of that country that it lubricated the decision by the U.S. and other Western powers to go to war there. Several of the most popular maps of the world support a Eurocentric or North America-centered worldview, aggrandizing “our” place in the world and downplaying the importance of developing nations.

Kaiser’s point: Maps are always selective, often biased, constantly nudging us to see, think, and behave in particular ways. We shape maps; equally important, they shape us. Like the faith we hold, maps powerfully influence how we live in the world. And maps may work with our faith or against it.

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An Education in Implicit Bias

2014 WAS NOTHING if not the year when implicit bias was exposed in law enforcement, the justice system, and media reporting. As the nation sorted out reporting on the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., police treatment of protesters, and the accuracy of the reporting itself, the words “implicit bias” or “unconscious bias” jumped to the fore again and again.

According to the Kirwan Institute report “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review 2014,” “Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”

My question is this: If 2014 opened the eyes of the general public to the presence of implicit biases embedded in our systems, could 2015 be the year when we begin to take a closer look at the impacts of implicit bias in our public systems and structures—and the way we talk about them?

For example, take this tit-for-tat about the education system: On Oct. 11, in his third column in a series called “When Whites Just Don’t Get It,” Nick Kristof wrote in The New York Times, “Too many whites unquestioningly accept a system that disproportionately punishes blacks and that gives public schools serving disadvantaged children many fewer resources than those serving affluent children. We are not racists, but we accept a system that acts in racist ways.”

On Oct. 23, Norman Leahy and Paul Goldman posted their own op-ed in The Washington Post titled, “When ‘whites’ don’t get it—a rebuttal.”

Their direct “rebuttal” didn’t address Kristof’s point at all. Instead, they expressed deep offense that Kristof would paint all whites with the same big brush; they then proceeded to highlight one case of corruption by black legislators in one Southern town. If that’s not painting with a big brush, then what is?

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What Type of God Do You Believe In?

Young man doubting, Asier Romero / Shutterstock.com

Young man doubting, Asier Romero / Shutterstock.com

Sometimes it's hard to blame people for rejecting God, because many Christians present a God that is ugly, cruel, unfair, and utterly horrific. Thus, when people avoid Christianity, they're actually shunning their ugly perception of it.

When you hear people talk about God, what type of God are you imagining? When you speak of God, what type of God are you communicating?

Unfortunately, society's obsession with success, politics, business, security, wealth, and comfort has hijacked the way we see and interpret God — even Christians are guilty of this.

It's easy to manipulate God to fit our own agendas, to use religion to rationalize our actions, to wield spirituality as a weapon, and manipulate theology to rationalize our sins.

VIDEO: "American Promise"

In “Enduring Family Values” (Sojourners, April 2014), Lisa Sharon Harper highlights the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s report, “Fathers’ Involvements with their Children.” According to Harper, “black men were actually more likely than any other group to maintain contact and involvement in their children’s daily lives while living apart,” as well as feed, bathe, diaper, and read to them daily.

Though the report reinforces that African-American men are responsible fathers, a recent documentary shows that their children are often facing issues of inequality and implicit biases in their private lives and education.

American Promise, a PBS POV film, follows two African-American boys from kindergarten through high school as they experience assumptions and stereotypes in their education systems. Watch below to explore the complex reality of what it takes to educate and parent African-American children—all while maintaining family values.

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Reza Aslan on Fox News: Punch, Counter-Punch

Reza Aslan on Fox News

Reza Aslan on Fox News

Are you feeling a bit smug about the way historian and author Reza Aslan out-debated Lauren Green on Fox News on Friday, July 26? The clip of the interview about his new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, has become a YouTube sensation with almost 3 million views in four days and much of its popularity is due to liberals gloating over Lauren Green’s obvious embarrassment at being out maneuvered on her own show. From her opening question it was clear she was itching for a fight.

Punch

Here’s her opening salvo: “You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?” This was less a question than an accusation. A Muslim, she seemed to be saying, who is writing about Christianity must have an agenda and we all know what that is – to destroy Christianity! She followed up for the first 5 minutes of the interview with questions that simply cited others making the same accusation, cynically pandering to her audience with what she hoped would be a knock-down, drag out boxing match in which she would put this arrogant Muslim masquerading as a “scholar” in his place. To her chagrin and the delight of liberals everywhere, Aslan came prepared for battle.

Counter-Punch

Aslan defended himself against her accusation of bias with a clever feint. He redirected her attack by agreeing that of course, he is a Muslim, but that is not the critical component of his biography. Here’s his answer to her opening question as I transcribed it: “To be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees including one in the New Testament, fluency in biblical Greek who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades who also just happens to be a Muslim. It’s not that I’m just some Muslim writing about Jesus. I am an expert with a PhD in the history of religions.” He mentions his credentials four more times during the interview. His point? How could you accuse me of having a hidden agenda when I am an academic scholar only interested in the facts? Historians, he wants Ms. Green and all of us to believe, are bias-free pursuers of the truth. The unspoken accusation is that Ms. Green is not interested in the truth and is in fact the one with the agenda, which is to destroy Islam and defend Christianity against any and all attacks.

In Search of The Real World

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc / Getty Images

Cast of the original The Real World in 1992. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc / Getty Images

This is the true story... of seven strangers... picked to live in a house...work together and have their lives taped... to find out what happens... when people stop being polite... and start getting real... The Real World.

The Real World was – and continues to be – a popular television show, and its influence is far greater than its core MTV viewing audience. Through its collection of diverse personalities and with a willingness to address controversial social issues, when The Real World first aired in May of 1992 it started what many would describe as our modern-day reality TV phenomenon. Not only did The Real World spark a new entertainment genre, but its impact was far greater, for it helped blur the lines between authentic and artificial. In other words, one can argue that The Real World sparked an ongoing transformation of what we perceive as real in our world.

As is the case with other reality TV shows, The Real World has received numerous allegations of being simulated and/or staged. Due to such accusations, some viewers are not convinced that The Real World is fully real. Some accuse MTV of shoddy and selective editorial choices that take events out of context, and as a result, give false impressions of what actually occurred in real time. And of course, some perceive the very concept of The Real World as a grand misnomer, for in the real world people do not live like those in The Real World, as few in our world can claim to live in cost-free luxurious dwellings in awesome cities under the watchful eye of camera crews who broadcast their daily actions for millions of viewers to see and scrutinize. For many, The Real World does not seem real at all.

Four Reasons to Rethink the Death Penalty

Across the political and religious spectrum, Americans are rethinking the death penalty. Here are some reasons why:

Mistakes. In January 2012, Joe D'Ambrosio became the 140th person on death row in the U.S. to be exonerated since 1973. Addressing the issue of biased application, Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan said in 1994 that "the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent."

Thou Shalt Follow These 10 Commandments for the Presidential Election

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama greet each other at the 2nd presidential debate at Hofstra University. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

The presidential election is only weeks away… and it’s getting ugly out there. I mean … really ugly.

And before you think I’m just talking about the political process, the political parties, or the respective candidates, I was actually talking about you, me, us, and them … the people. And by people, I’m also especially talking about Christians.

Sometimes, I feel it would be appropriate to label how some Christians engage the presidential election season as “Christians Gone Wild."

Since there’s sure to be drama this week and next following the debates —  and each day leading up to Election Day on Nov. 6, and likely some weeks afterward — I thought I’d share with you my 10 Commandments of the Election Season for Christians in hopes that it might speak some balance, sense, and perspective to any readers, not just during this election season but thereafter; not just in this country but in any country.

Why else am I sharing this?

Because I really want you to still respect yourself the morning after the election season.
Because I really want your friends to still respect you, too.

Know what I mean?

So, here are my 10 Commandments of the Election Season

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