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Working On Personal Biases

When it comes to discrimination, real change starts with being honest with yourself. While it can be easy to reject discriminatory behavior as a flaw in others, trying to understand your role in it is more constructive.

Whether we like it or not, we have all been the perpetrators and the victims of discriminatory actions at one time or another. Recognizing our role in it can be the most difficult part and making outward change, the easiest.

Conscious attitudes can make an enormous difference. In fact, actually acknowledging and examining our own biases is a strong first step to combating them. It may not be possible to avoid the automatic stereotype or prejudice, but it is certainly possible to change it.

While there may be no ready roadmap for undoing such overt and especially hidden stereotypes and prejudices, here are some ways to get started:
  • Recognize and be honest about your own contributions to discrimination.

  • Consider times you have been included while others have been excluded. Be sensitive to reasons why you have had opportunities that others have not.

  • Welcome different viewpoints. Consider the ways that difference can positively influence the way we all live and think.

  • Be conscious of the diversity of the company you keep. Make a point to get to know different types of people and dispel stereotypes you might carry with you. While integration, in itself, may not eliminate biases, it will often help us discover more commonalities than immediately apparent.

  • Take exceptions to stereotypes seriously. Notice that woman in a leadership position and Olympic award-winning disabled athlete? Rather than seeing them as the exception to the rule, begin to see them as what is possible beyond stereotypes.

  • Don't limit how you define and refer to people by their skin color, disability, gender, etc. ("White girl," "crippled man,") Keep in mind your complexities as a person and how you would want to be referenced. When you are referring to someone, recognize how diminishing and arbitrary it can be to oversimplify who they are as a person. See more examples of this. (PDF)

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