Unconscious Bias

Yes. You’re Biased. We All Are.

It’s been a while, right?

This post brewed for a good six months while we tried to get into the nitty-gritty of bias and what it is. We found we already talked about it in all of our previous articles, such as when we broke apart dehumanization in gaming. Dehumanization is the primary factor in our natural bias and the actions we take. If you’re new to Kill the Healer, you can check previous articles about it and how we strip away identifying factors of a person or group, seeing them instead as “Other”. It plays a part in Bias or Prejudice, which are feelings/thoughts in favor or against something or someone, sometimes sweeping across those included in their “group”. 

As humans, we are all biased. We are a product of our environment, formed by the things that happen around us, the mores and values of our close groups (including friends, family, and peers), and our histories. We can’t escape those things nor deny their existence. A lot of bias is unintentional, meaning we don’t realize that prejudice influences our thoughts or actions. It’s locking the car door when you see someone approach you in a crappy neighborhood. It’s microaggressions like asking a person of color about their schooling or assuming a trans person always has dysphoria. Unintentional bias consists of small (and sometimes large) things we don’t realize we are doing, based on the assumptions we have about the world. 

We build these biases through our experiences, relationships, and histories and they are the foundation from which we act. And, while we cannot escape the framework of our minds, we can take efforts to acknowledge where the faulty foundation stones are and maybe try to straighten them out a little and constantly improve them. Bias is basically the Winchester House– we’re going to keep building weird shit, pulling other things apart, and finding a way to confuse a past that haunts us so it can’t find us again.

Before we get into this, many people will deny their bias. It’s hard to admit, when you feel like the ruler of liberal thoughts and actions, that you might also be a little bit biased in some way. Many people will say ‘I don’t see color” or “everyone is the same ” and not only do those statements deny the fact that these constructs exist, they negate the experiences of the people who have to live within those very different skins. It also prevents you from dissecting your opinions and thoughts to understand that we all have opinions and feelings, even the dark ones at the back of your head, and they influence what you do.

Types of unconscious bias

Now, we’ve talked bias against others to death without specifically pointing out one of the most prevalent biases: the one towards ourselves. Even if we doubt ourselves, possess shitty self-esteem, or have issues of personal inadequacy, we favor our thought processes above others. After all, it’s why we don’t believe others when they tell us good things about ourselves– we’ve already made up our mind otherwise. We have a personal investment in what we are thinking, how it makes us feel, and how it plays out in our actions. Even if these investments reinforce sorrowful or painful things about ourselves, we have a stake in that hurt.

For example, if I believe my opinions about politics are inherently right, they become my facts and I, like most people, am going to argue my opinion to the point of death because I believe in its value– which supports my fundamental self and self-esteem. Rightness makes us feel good and releases all sorts of fun chemicals that make our brain happy. However, while the chemicals make us feel good, we draw some improper conclusions: for us to be right, someone has to be wrong. Being wrong makes that person less than us and someone we can easily dehumanize. Their values are faulty and wrong equals bad. It means we’ve drawn black and white conclusions in order to fuel our othering and made an enemy rather than someone who disagrees with us.

We inherently justify ourselves. When confronted with a different opinion and facts supporting that opinion, we come into conflict with our personal biases. Maybe I bunker down, holding the line and disputing whatever “facts” someone gives me. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m bad. But that can’t be, right? That bias, not to be the wrong, bad person is a source of conflict. It causes us to lash out at the person who created the feeling, in ways that reinforce the feelings we naturally have regarding the situation.

Below are two example situations in which this can happen: in reinforcing our belief in our own due diligence and our victimhood. 

  1. Due Diligence: Due diligence is a situation in which a person has reasonably completed a task. For example, there is an obvious lack of diversity in gaming. One of the ways to address that is making a space– not talking about making a space, not simply offering the space, and not occupying that space. However, many people cannot make the space at all, much less understand how to let the intended parties in.

In gaming, we often put out all-calls, posting in social media that we need certain people. This is certainly a step in the right direction, as it recognizes that gaming is not as diverse as it should be. It’s just a step though and it’s not far enough.

Let’s examine it through real life. You are organizing a party where you want people to meet new faces. You open it up to your neighborhood, to the people in your immediate area and maybe post signs or the neighborhood forum. You get people who are obviously enthusiastic to attend. You’ll have people who don’t pay attention or decline your offer. However, you’ve only extended your invitation to your known area which is homogenous and consists of people you already know. The same old faces are going to respond to your invitation.

When we just all-call to our known group, we are doing the bare minimum. We are going to see the same people over and over by including the already homogenous groups we are in. Despite that, we feel like we have made a sufficient effort. We have done our due diligence. We are not in the wrong since we wanted and encouraged diversity. We have a natural bias that we’ve done what we needed to.

However, if I want to ensure I have a diverse table, I don’t rely on my known resources. I invite others specifically or ask them for recommendations of people who might be interested. I advocate and keep making those spaces, and I don’t let them be filled by other people– people for which those spaces aren’t meant for. And, if someone calls us to the floor, we acknowledge that the people who’ve been oppressed damn near death beneath the rocks are the ones who might be able to point out when we are slacking on getting them out of there.

  1. Victimhood: A victim is someone who something has happened to. We can victimize others in a variety of ways in gaming, from excluding them from a game table to targeting them for mental and physical violence. There is no end to the ways we can hurt one another.

Note: This example does not apply to abohorrent and illegal situations of abuse. People in those situations should seek appropriate help from legal and mental health professionals. In addition, this does not advocate remaining silent or not taking any action in other situations, but to evaluate your emotions and the facts to make healthier choices for yourself.

We have a character that we love. We’ve spent hundreds of hours putting it together and working on it. It is an act of creativity we brought into this world. It is important and valuable to us. At some point, however, our character offended someone, whether through something they said or something they did.

After this happens, we find that we are in a sticky situation. Other characters verbally attack us. Weird political stuff happens in-character. People are talking and plotting out-of-character about us. Our character gets attacked multiple times. It makes us feel bad because the character is a part of us. 

Then the worst thing happens: the character is killed. It’s like a part of us went with it– an investment of time, emotions, and energy. We are angry, and we are biased not to direct that anger at ourselves, but at the people we believe wronged us, turning us into a victim. The bias of being the victim justifies much of what we do to seek reparations for our anger and pain.

Others wronged us. In clear black and white (to us, at least), we ended up in a place through no fault of our own. We’re right, and therefore we have the right to belittle, hurt and seek revenge against the person/people who are wrong and bad. We have the right to strike out as we are the victim. After all, they initiated this attack and therefore we can hit back.  Every action, though, is a result of another action. Nothing occurs in a vacuum. We default, in cases where we feel hurt, to the stance of the victim. It’s our internal bias defaulting to ourselves.

Think of every social media war ever and examine who thinks they were wronged and how it flows down to every other person involved. If, instead of posting videos, media, or words about this situation, the person realized they are the ones perpetuating the cycle of their own victimhood, they would be able to take a more effective approach to addressing their emotions, such as reaching out to someone in charge or the other person. That they are not right. That they may be in the wrong, at least in some part, but that it doesn’t make them bad but responsible for consequences and handling them/the conflict maturely. 

Periodic table of human emotions (primary vs secondary)

Every emotion has a basis in a situation and every situation has facts. When checking the facts, don’t use words like I feel or I believe and only state what is factually true. Let’s put this in the perspective of our examples:

Every emotion has a basis in a situation and every situation has facts. When checking the facts, don’t use words like I feel or I believe and only state what is factually true. Let’s put this in the perspective of our examples:

  1. We want a cool game and recognize that we’re complete shit as being diverse as gamers.  We make a generalized post asking for new faces and a diverse cast for our next game. We don’t get any answers, so we fill the slots and run the game anyway.

A person of color, someone who the space was meant for, calls us on it. We get angry because we feel like we did everything possible to include others (although, as we discussed, making a space is a hugely different thing). We’re hurt and want to feel like we are the right ones. We think of letting people attack the person on our behalf as we focus on our pain at being called out for bias. If we checked the facts, we would find out the following.

  1. We wanted to run a diverse game.
  2. We put an all-call out.
  3. We did not specifically contact women or people of color.
  4. We ran the game, calling it diverse.
  5. Someone with personal experience advised us this was not a diverse game.

We keep breaking down the information until all we have is factual context. We do this even with our emotions, determining why we are angry and if our action is justified based on the anger. After we checked our facts, we realize that we’re hurt because our personal integrity was called into question, and we feel as though we are a bad person for being in the wrong. 

We can’t be sure the person had any ill intent. They mostly likely just want us to meet our goals and want to explain how we can be better at representing diversity. Most of all, the person was right. We could have done more. That doesn’t necessarily make us wrong, and thus bad, though our self-bias tells us that. We made a mistake and we’re responsible for it, but we have no justification to perpetuate more anger and grief. No one victimized us. We just didn’t do our due diligence in something we thought we took all the steps in.

2. Someone kills our character. We’re angry, because we not only lost a huge investment of resources on our part, but we feel targeted out-of-character as a result of the string of attacks on our character. We feel like going on FB and vague-booking about it or calling out the people we feel hurt us. We think, because something bad happened to us, we are permitted to perpetuate that badness on those who we hold responsible.

Let’s check the facts.

  1. I am a person. My character is a construct.
  2. My character did something that offended someone else several months ago
  3. Other characters participated in vocal/physical/etc attacks, which culminated in my character’s death.
  4. I have not spoken with the attacker in a negative fashion out-of-character.

We are not our characters, but we do invest a portion of ourselves into the character, so it hurts when it gets attacked. Maybe we didn’t believe the offense was that big, either in character or out-of-character, but the other character did. We don’t know if the other person considered the reasons as frivolous as we did. We don’t know if that other person hated us out-of-character and targeted us in the only fashion they have available. We assume that we are the ones wronged because of personal bias, because it feels like this construct we created is a part of us, so the attack was on us. We are hurt, but our facts don’t point us at the other person, even if we want them to hurt as much as we do. We have no justified reason for our attack based on our facts.

And yes it’s a lot of work that’s on our shoulders to always break down information and handle our emotions appropriately, but think of this way: for a long time none of it was on our shoulders. We ignored the big pile of things we needed to do to dismantle. So now we have more work to do in a shorter period of time. We don’t get to pick away at it slowly anymore– that time has passed– we’ve got to throw our back into and just get it done. We don’t get to be the offended ones, the ones that are hurt, when someone points out we aren’t carrying our load or otherwise makes us examine ourselves.

We are responsible for recognizing our biases and handling them in an appropriate way. We are responsible for checking our facts against what our mind tells us, then being the people who address our feelings and actions, including making our own reparations to correct any damage we’ve done.  We are responsible for checking that voice that fuels our emotions and tries to tell us we’re justified and determine if we really are. The very first thing we should tell ourselves is that we are responsible for our emotions, even if they are the result of something someone else did.

Yes. We’re all biased. Yes. We’re all responsible for dissecting and handling it maturely. And yes, maybe you’re wrong. But it’s okay– as long as you’re willing to shine a light on yourself and make yourself better.

happy larper

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