Racism vs. Bias | Why We Need to Understand the Difference

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This post originally was posted to Herdacity’s blog: here

“We are only as blind as we want to be.” – Maya Angelou. 

Last year in 2020, Merriam-Webster changed its definition of racism because scholars called upon it the “gatekeeper of the English Lexicon” to include the “systematic” nature of the word.

Over time, people have replaced words such as prejudice and bias in their everyday language with racism as if these words all mean the same thing. The more people understand these words’ nuances and represent different notions, the better off we will be in our communities, workplaces, churches, and homes.

The hardest part of the discussion of race in today’s world is that so many people think we are talking about it too much. The idea of white supremacy makes people uncomfortable (me included), and some of you might want to stop reading this post right now – well, I encourage you to keep reading anyway.

Denying Racism Doesn’t Work

I am a black woman who didn’t believe in white supremacy for a long time, and I can tell you that white supremacy did not stop existing because I didn’t believe in it. I have family members, who are also black, who still don’t believe in white supremacy. Still, the reality is whether I ever came around to fully understanding it and admitting its existence in America did not matter. The deep scars left in America remain, and we must deal with repercussions whether we like to or not.

And people fail to realize that their rejection of the idea has nothing to do with where their heart, minds, or intent begins because we were all born into a world where racism, systemic oppression, and white supremacy existed before we took a breath.

So, we have two options:

  • Understand the nuances of racism & bias better to improve the world we live in, OR
  • Continue to live our lives and not make a difference at all.

The Difference Between Racism and Bias

If we want to live in a world where white supremacy isn’t a thing, we must admit it is a thing to get rid of the thing. 

Let us build upon the same foundation, so here are some important definitions:

  1. Prejudice: Preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience
  2. Bias: Prejudice (preconceived opinion) in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.
  3. Discrimination: The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.
  4. Racism: The marginalization and/or oppression of people of color based on a socially constructed racial hierarchy that privileges white people.

As you can see from the definitions above, we can have prejudice, bias, and even practice discrimination, but we cannot all be racist. It’s unfortunate in our news and media that people throw around the word “racist” without really knowing what it signifies. You can learn more about how system racism shows up in our society by clicking here.

Confronting Our Bias

In 2020, more than ever, race and discussion of racism entered our lives in a very open way in which we had to confront our thoughts and feelings about how people show up at work, in our circles of influence, communities, etc. So, as we try to navigate this world in 2021, we must continually educate ourselves and be proactive and pursue interactions with people different from us.

There must be recognition of our biases and recognition that racism is a deep structure or systematic problem that will not be fixed overnight.  We must understand the difference and educate ourselves.

I recently wrote an article, in collaboration with Notley Tide, about advocacy, and I emphasize that for people who are new to engaging in becoming an advocate, you have to be educated, sit back and learn. People sometimes just don’t want to do that because they believe action is the only thing that matters.

Your action, without education, will do more harm than you can even begin to imagine. As we go into this world trying to be “confident women in our careers,” we must check our biases at the door, conscious and unconscious. We can only do that by learning what we read, and the interactions we intentionally have as this world opens back up.

Until the next time,