In his latest Sunday Review for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof gives an updated perspective on how racism and misogyny manifest in modern day society. For the most part, extreme racists and misogynists have been replaced with people who are influenced by unconscious and systematic biases and make decisions that marginalize different societal groups. Kristof cites numerous research articles to support his claims, such as a study that showed how a person's name (and associated race) influences hiring patterns, and another experiment that found the high degree to which a teacher's sex determines the way in which his or her students rate teaching style and competence.
As human beings, we are all susceptible to 'everyday biases.' Influenced by our personal relationships, misconceptions, and heuristics, homo sapiens constantly make faulty (and often racist and misogynistic) decisions and judgements. In their widely popular book Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein make this argument, and separate homo sapiens from the homo economicus view of human beings, a flawed belief that humans are capable of making perfect and unbiased choices.
Offhand comments that ignore sexist connotations, or reject racial and historical contexts are another representation of modern day racism and misogyny. Recently, Hollywood reporter Guiliana Rancic,commented on biracial actress Zendaya Coleman's dreadlocks, saying that they must smell like patchouli oil or weed. Rancic eventually apologized for offending people and claimed that that she was referring to a 'bohemian chic' look and not race.
We are bound to all make mistakes and give in to our own set of unconscious biases. But when we do, it is important to acknowledge our mistakes and apologize for the act instead of making excuses that ignore the racial or sexist underpinnings of our words or actions. Furthermore, we as a society have a responsibility to recognize the systematic bias that fuels everyday realities. Together, we can create a new normal that seeks to unite instead of marginalize, but we must take a hard look at our own biases in order to form a united front.
Those studies are a reminder that we humans are perhaps less rational than we would like to think, and more prone to the buffeting of unconscious influences. That’s something for those of us who are white men to reflect on when we’re accused of “privilege.” ...Yet the evidence is overwhelming that unconscious bias remains widespread in ways that systematically benefit both whites and men. So white men get a double dividend, a payoff from both racial and gender biases. ... Of course, there are die-hard racists and misogynists out there, but the bigger problem seems to be well-meaning people who believe in equal rights yet make decisions that inadvertently transmit both racism and sexism. So, come on, white men! Let’s just acknowledge that we’re all flawed, biased and sometimes irrational, and that we can do more to resist unconscious bias