Unintentional Biases

“Unintentional biases,” last week was the first time I came upon such a term, knowing that throughout my life I’ve experienced partiality when I heard the word bias, I was so intrigued to learn more. I came upon this term while watching a TED Talk by Kate Rosalyn Mathew. If you don’t know her from before when you just read that, didn’t you just imagine a White girl with blonde hair? Don’t worry, I did too, but little did I know she was an Indian girl like me. I was puzzled when she walked up on the stage knowing that I clearly heard “Kate,” and coming from an Indian background I wasn’t accustomed to hearing an Indian having such a westernized name. I was always familiar with names like Riya, Siya, Palak, Mahi, or other more “Indian” names. I guess it’s because when looking at India we are more familiarized with the Hindu religion, and often oversee other religions like Catechism. Kate Mathew is an Indian but that doesn’t mean she’s Hindu, she is a Catholic and I guess that’s why her name is more westernized than other common Indian names. But, even if she wasn’t Catholic, what’s wrong with a Hindu having a westernized name?

That immediately bought me to the realization, yes, my name is Lehar Marata but I do have family who are Christians and Catholics, and yes, they are from India. When I was younger I was always confused as to why I had an Indian name and my cousins owned names like Samuel or Daniel, and at some point, I wished I had a name like them since I always thought it was “cooler” and for once my name would’ve been pronounced correctly. However, growing up I started to realize why, but whenever I heard they were going to take part in Indian festivals the questions in my head arose again. The question was always, “How are they Indians but go to Church and still take part in major Indian festivals?” As much as my parents tried to explain it to me, the stereotype in my head always led me to think that, that was “weird” or “wrong.” And there, that is what unintentional biases are, in my own words unintentional biases are basically categorizing people based on stereotypes.

Names weren’t the only way I was unintentionally biased, I always thought being American meant you were rich and lived in big houses, and for my own homeland I always thought India was a country with people who don’t know to speak English well, and in fact, India is the country with the second-largest English speakers. In my daily life, I always thought getting higher grades meant you were smarter, being fat meant you were obese, and being older meant you were superior. It took me a while to get over these stereotypes which were constantly leading me to be unintentionally biased every day however, not only was I perpetrator but I was also a victim. Being a dark-skinned Indian, I was always asked, “Are you sure you’re Indian?” or being in the top 2% of my class I was always called a nerd.

You may be surprised but there is science behind this! The amygdala, hippocampus, and left cerebral cortex are three parts of our brain that play a vital role in making us unintentionally biased. The amygdala processes information and stimuli, the hippocampus connects our memory with newly processed information, and the left cerebral cortex uses words and sounds and connects them to previous memory along with emotions. These play a role in making our brain get used to “common” things even though they may be stereotypes, which leads us to instantly react without analyzing, causing us to be unintentionally biased.

Unintentional biases are ineluctable, it’s part of our human nature, but the first step to avoiding it is by recognizing it. Recognize that you’re being biased even though it may be unintentional. After reading this, the next time you find yourself being biased, distance yourself, and take some time to reflect and actually look at the person from a different perspective. Look at their personality, don’t categorize them by their looks, size, ethnicity, or name. Our brains instantly let us perceive an impression of a person once we hear or see something about them, but as Kate Mathew said in her TED Talk, “Don’t judge a book solely by its cover, look deeper and uncover personalities. Process why your instant reactions are a certain way and finally embrace who you are there’s no one out their quite like you.”

Kate Mathew TED Talk

Here’s a link to watch her TED Talk, it’s one worth watching!

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