“We’re stuck in fear and in not wanting to cross that most important bridge of understanding that we’re more alike or not. We have to want the same thing. I’ve got to want the same thing for your son or daughter I would want for mine. I’ve got to make sure that your son is as educated as mine, or vice versa. We’ve got to make sure we all live in communities that are safe. We’ve all got to feel there’s a non-existence of ‘driving while black,’ ‘driving while brown,’ ‘walking while black.’ We want to see equality.”
Stevie Wonder on an interview to Rolling Stone Magazine, Feb 15th, 2015
The United Nations has declared today, February 20th, World Day of Social Justice.
For me, Every time I think about “social justice”, I tend to conjure ideas of something big; large humanitarian projects in African countries; multinational initiatives aiming to eradicate the world of the great injustices people face. Thank God these social justice projects exist – I shudder to think what our world would look like without them.
UN Secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon was quoted saying that “the World Day of Social Justice is observed to highlight the power of global solidarity to advance opportunity for all.” He went on to say that as inequalities widen, the social fabric of societies is both stretched and strained, which often leads to a downward spiral of economic and social uncertainty and even unrest. He also reminded us that the violent conflict present in many parts of the world is often rooted in deep inequality, discrimination, and widespread poverty.
After reading his message I began thinking about his words, especially his mention of discrimination as one of the root causes of inequality and social injustice. Interestingly, the secretary General’s message came at the same time I started participating a program called Faculty Institute For Inclusive Excellence at Colorado State University, where I am an employee. The program’s aim is to empower us as college professors with tools and resources to improve it in our day-to-day activities in a way that creates an inclusive classroom setting. The program kicked off with a conversation about prejudice and discrimination about various topics. We then moved onto a topic called “implicit bias”.
The idea of implicit bias was a project developed by three scientists – Tony Greenwald (University of Washington), Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University), and Brian Nosek University of Virginia) They ended up founding a non-profit organization called Project Implicit and international collaboration between researchers who were interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control.
Project Implicit’s goal was and is to educate the public about implicit social cognition and provide a “virtual laboratory” – a novel way for researchers to collect data on the Internet.
The results of the virtual laboratory have shown a variety of implicit bias examples in America. For example, data suggests that minorities are not sought-after and not being hired in the proportionate to their white counterparts. Studies also show that gender biases were found in the evaluation of identical resumes. Similarly, biases in promotion to tenure favor men. A research observing two professors with same level of education and teaching style showed the straight professor had 22% of negative comments compared to 81% of negative comments from the gay professor. The list goes on and on.
This project allows participants to actually take a test online to determine your own implicit biases. I went online and took the test myself and was not very happy with my results for certain categories. To be honest, it was very disappointing.
I realized that I also have implicit biases towards certain social groups in society. The truth is, we all do, but we don’t pay enough attention to those cultural mind-sets that cause them.
So as I thought back to Ban Ki-Moon’s remarks on social justice and the disappointing results of my implicit bias test, my view of social justice completely changed. I realized that in order for social injustices in our society to change, I need to change myself first. It’s good to talk about social justice at a large scale, but the truth is, if we don’t change the way we see and think of people, social justice will take much longer to occur and social patters will continue to persist.
Hidden prejudices fleet across our minds much more often than we would like: seeing immigrants from X country simply as “people who steal our local jobs”, crossing the street when we see a homeless because we are fearful, not favoring certain policies even if they’re good just because we are a liberal/conservative. It’s so easy for us to take people loved by God and make them into “those people” in our minds.
I came to the conclusion that we can only practice real social justice looking at what Jesus said in John 8:31-32:
“to the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “ if you hold to my teaching, you’re really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”.
I believe that the only way to set me free from all my implicit biases (hidden prejudice) is to know and meditate in the Word of God. When you become a disciple and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and transform you by the renewing of your mind, you also become a leader and a leader of change around you. A leader that changes the status quo as Jesus did in His time. A leader that can actually be socially just free from all the prejudices and implicit biases embedded in our culture and mindset.
Let’s examine ourselves and see what we should change to stop social injustice.
Are you ready to change your mind in order to change the world?