This is the “summary” version of “Equality Arts Dojo”. The “complete” version is here:
“Equality Arts Dojo”
Copyright 2009 Greg
licensed under the Creative Commons-Attribution-Share Alike-3.0 (United States) license.
The URL for attribution is provided as:
What’s an Equality Arts Dojo? Well, it’s like a Martial Arts Dojo, but instead of learning about maneuvars and weapons to use in a physical fight, its a place where you can learn about maneuvars and weapons to use in the fight for equality against bias based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. If you want to learn how to defend yourself against a bully, you might study Aikido at an Akido dojo. If you want to defend yourself against racists, you might want to study at an Equality Arts Dojo.
Bias can be categorized as Individual or Systematic. Individual Bias can be categorizes as Implicit or Explicit. Implicit Bias occurs at the subconscious level. Explicit Bias occurs in the form of external actions that affects another person. Systemic Bias can be categorized as Top-Down or Bottom-Up. Top-Down Bias is Systemic Bias with some central organizing body of some sort. A government, some organization, a company, etc. Bias is directed from the organization down. Bottom-Up Bias is Systemic Bias that occurs without a top-down organizational center. Members of a population act in a systemically biased manner without organizing themselves to do so.
Responsibility means taking ownership of some effect in the world that your actions contributed to. Responsibility requires choice. You are not responsible for the circumstances you were born into, such as the color of your skin, your gender, your sexual orientation, etc. You are responsible for the effects you contribute to in the world, regardless of what your intent was. Your responsibility for spilling a drink on someone is the same whether it was accidental, subliminal, intentional, or the result of years of pent up unresolved anger vented at someone who had nothing to do with that anger. The effect is the same, the responsibility is the same.
Implicit Bias, being a matter of subconscious and possibly conscious thought, does not contribute to any effect in the physical world unless it is followed by action, but an Individual act of Bias is Explicit Bias. Individual Responsibility around an act of Explicit Bias is taking ownership of whatever effect the act of Explicit Bias contributed to.
On the level of Systemic Bias, an individual is responsible for whatever they do or do not do to affect their social structures that cause the systemic bias. An individual is not responsible for the system they are in, they are responsible for whatever action or inaction they take that contributes to the current systemic state.
Once individuals start dictating to other individuals what they *should* do to rectify systemic bias, you start going into the realm of systemic solutions, rather than individual responsibility. Systemic solutions for systemic bias should be implemented with transparency in mind, and with some form of due process to protect the individuals from the systemic “solution” becoming its own problem.
In a situation where unanimous agreement is impossible, a systemic solution to systemic bias will have to be enforced against the will of some individuals. Some may want to do nothing. Some may want to do more than any democratic system would ever agree to. Without unanimous agreement, a systemic solution may not satisfy either end of the extremes, but will ideally be backed by the *middle*.
Of the four categories of Bias, one category, Individual Explicit Bias, is reasonably objective. A specific action or a specific statement can be examined and held to be Explicit Bias or not. Again, some may find bias everywhere they look, and others my deny it exists at all. But hopefully an individual can look at the *effect* their action had on someone else and own it and own it and be responsible for it.
The other three categories, Implicit Individual Bias, and both kinds of Systemic Bias (Bottom-Up and Top-Down), are much more difficult to prove. Accusations of implicit bias requires mind reading and can turn into character assassination and character defense, taking the conversation far from the actual individual act of explicit bias. Sometimes the issue of whether the act was intentional or accidental or otherwise can steer the conversation from the actual act to the thought process of the individual. It’s far easier to avoid mind reading and focus on the act. It’s also irrelevant what the *intent* was, it is the *effect* that people are responsible for. (As much as the accused may claim it was accidental, there are are some accusers who will insist it was intentional. Both have missed the point of personal responsibility.)
Accusations of Systemic Bias are even more difficult. The plural of anecdote is not absolute truth. One cannot point to a single act and say it is proof of systemic bias. Systemic Bias requires statistics. And while conversations about an individual act of bias may lead to conversations of systemic bias, it’s might be somewhat problematic to insist a hard linkage between the one act and some form of systemic bias to the point that the individual is held completely responsible for sytemic bias. People are responsible for what they contribute to a situation, not whatever situation they are born into.
During all of this, it is useful to keep in mind the difference between the notion of “some”, “none”, and “all”. Generally speaking, unless someone says a form of “all” or “none”, they are usually implying a form of “some”. Taking a statement that implied “some” and turning it into an absolute assertion of “all” or “none” and then attacking the absolute assertion is strawmanning the person. And gets the conversation further away from any sort of resolution. Likewise, if someone omits a fact and focuses on one aspect of a dispute, that shouldn’t be taken to mean they are condoning everything they omitted.
It is also helpful to keep in mind that your emotions are valid, and you are responsible for them. No one should tell you to stop feeling angry. No one should tell you to start feeling guilty. You’re feelings are valid whatever they are. And someone getting into your head to tell you how you should be feeling should send up red flags that the conversation has derailed. On the other hand, what you say and do as a result of your emotions have real world effects. And you are responsible for what you say and do. Your emotions do not absolve you of your responsibilities.
Not everyone is an expert on these topics. Individuals entering a discusion about bias are equally likely to make mistakes, regardless what “side” they may be on. Anyone you consistently downplays specific mistakes made by their “side” is being irresponsible. People who have a lot of experience with any topic are often more willing to admit their limitations and that they can make mistakes. The more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know.
Some topics around bias seem to be inherently more problematic than others. The idea of “white privilege” is one example. The sheer number of FAQ’s and papers on the internet trying to explain what “white privilege” is ought to be an indicator of problems. If Alice has five dollars more than Bob, it’s equally valid to say Alice has a five dollar advantage over Bob, or that Bob has a five dollar disadvantage under Alice. But proponents of “white privilege” insist on talking in terms of an “advantage” frame. The term “white privilege” is also problematic in that it refers to systemic bias, but is often used by some to accuse an individual act of explicit bias as being the result of some systemic “white privilege” bias. And accusations of systemic bias are problematic for reasons already covered. The term “white privilege” is also used by some as a “guilt bat” or a “club” of one sort or another with which to beat individuals over the head with. Certainly not everyone uses the phrase in that sense, but some do, and it invariably leads the conversation in a downward spiral.
The “tone” debate is another problematic topic. Alice feels that Bob did something that qualifies as explicit bias. Alice has had to deal with a of this sort of thing. Alice points out to Bob that what he did was explicit bias, but Alice does so in a manner that carries the emotional baggage of more than just what Bob did. Bob says Alice is overreacting. At this point, Alice is responsible for what she did and said as a result of her emotions, and Bob is responsible for whatever explicit act of bias he committed. But rather than Alice be responsible for what she did and said and Bob be responsible for what he did and said, the conversation can go into the “tone” argument. Alice will tell Bob that he’s using the “tone” argument to derail the conversation, and that the conversation is about his explicit act of bias. Except it isn’t just about that anymore. Alice brought her emotions into the conversation and said and did things as a result of those emotions that had nothing to do with Bob’s specific act. The “tone” conversation is ultimately getting the conversation further away from personal resonsibility. If Alice spews a bunch of emotional stuff at Bob, Alice is responsible for that, regardless of whether Bob ever takes responsibility for his action or not.
The “we are all biased” is another problematic theme. It is usually used to indicate that we have Implicit Bias. But accusations of Implicit Bias are already problematic because they require mind reading and because they can be taken to be an attack on a person’s character. Some use it in an attempt to try to convince people that it is “OK” to admit that they did something racist because, you know, “we are all racist”. But others use it as a club to mean “we are all racist, but especially you”, which becomes a direct attack on the person’s character. Far better to keep the conversation on the explicit act of bias, and away from implicit and/or systemic bias. “That thing you just did was racist” is far easier to deal with and easier to correct and easier for people to take responsibility for than “you are a racist” or “you are part of a racist system” or “you are the tip of a systemic racist iceberg”.
Sometimes the “we are all racist” conversation is used to present the accusation of racism in a sugar-coated pill. The idea seems to be that it’s OK to confess being a racist, because, hey, we’re all racists, so if Alice accuses Bob of racism she might use the “it’s ok, because we’re all racist” to get Bob to acknowledge his responsibility more easily. The issue comes though when Alice is doing that, yet she isn’t acknowledging her own foibles just as easily herself. If she is seeking integrity, she’d be looking for it in Bob as well as herself equally. She’d acknowledge her own mistakes, make new committments, and move on with her life, just as she would point out explicit racism in Bob, allow him to acknowledge it, allow him to make new committments, and allow everyone to move on. But if Alice isn’t demonstrating her own integrity around her own mistakes, while at the same time trying to get Bob to admit to his racism by saying “It’s OK, we’re all racist”, then it’s an insincere proposal, and is really geared towards making Bob confess his sins while Alice avoids acknowledging her own mistakes. In short, don’t tell me “we’re all racist” unless you are willing to admit your own mistakes.
Another theme is the “no true scotsman” problem. This is when someone is fighting what they percieve to be bias and declare who is and is not fighting bias “enough” to satisfy their definition. This violates the “some”, “none”, and “all” issue mentioned earlier. It is often used by the person to declare that “they” are the true opposition to bias, and everyone else is condoning bias. Sometimes shortened to “you’re either with us, or against us”, where the person making that challenge gets to decide what “us” means.
The other problematic theme is the “no meta conversations”. Sometimes Alice might accuse Bob of committing explicit bias and Bob might try to change the conversation to some “meta” topic to avoid responsibility. At which point, Alice might say “no meta conversations”. But sometimes Alice accuses Bob of committing an act of explicit bias, and then goes on to accuse him of being implicitely biased, as well as accusing him of being a proactive part of some larger systemic bias. At which point, Bob might say that’s an unfair accusation and explain the difference between explicit, implicit, and systemic bias. And Alice wants to hear none of it, and tries to stop the discussion from putting a spotlight onto her words and deeds by declaring “no meta conversations”.
This entire document is a meta conversation. It is an analysis of the different categories of bias, as well as how personal responsibility fits into those categories. It’s also an analysis of how some approaches to bias work and some have a tendency to turn the conversation into a downward spiral. Even if Bob did commit an act of explicit bias, that doesn’t mean Alice can make any accusation she wants and not be responsible for how it turns the conversation towards a solution or towards a downwards spiraling flame war.
See the complete version of this document for more information about each topic.