Personal biases essay
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Living Life Purposefully
Where Purpose Meets Passion
Recognizing My Personal Bias
**Warning: This post IS controversial and highly prejudiced. No offense is meant. If you find yourself feeling that way, then you can respectfully post a comment.
In working through the program for my Master’s degree, I’ve come to realize a few things about myself. The biggest hurdle that I’m currently facing is one that is very personal in nature. But before I get into what this post is about, I’ll state a few facts:
1. I’m a Black woman.
2. I grew up in the inner-city (many times while homeless or in transitional housing) and I’ve made it this far because of teachers who pushed me forward.*
3. I am in my field to help students, more particularly students of color, succeed academically…so that it becomes the rule and NOT the “exception”.
Now that those truths have been stated, I’ll share my bias:
I’m in a cohort that is diverse by definition (racially) and a field that is highly politicized. When my classmates are discussing things in the classroom, I get this sickening feeling in my stomach. This feeling is something that I’ve been trying desperately hard to deal with and to even put it into words. Sometimes, I feel that I make sense, other times, I don’t. This feeling also only comes up when certain classmates speak on a topic. It’s my prejudice.
As a child who grew up in an “urban” center and who attended an “urban” and “disadvantaged” school, I feel quite ill when the discussions take place in the classroom. When I was younger, I began to notice the inequity that plagued our school system. During my 3rd grade year, I was invited to participate in a testing session to see if I would qualify for a scholarship to a private school that was in the same neighborhood as my elementary school. Until that invite, I assumed that the elementary school was in fact a college because the building was that nice. I scored high enough to be placed into a classroom and when my Mom asked if I wanted to go, I said no. There was something not quite right about the situation, but instinct told me that I didn’t want to be at that school. When I graduated from elementary school, I tested into a Magnet school for my 7th grade year (I didn’t graduate from this school however). The same thing happened when I graduated from Middle School and while I was proud of my school, I also recognized it for what it was — the lowest performing school in the city. For High School, I had the distinction and privilege of going to the best high school in the state.
This is when things became dicey. You see, during my elementary and middle school years, I’d attended all-Black schools (I kid you not, every student was Black). High School was a huge shock all around. Here, the kids had lockers. Here the kids didn’t walk through metal detectors. Here the kids did NOT have to eat inside of the cafeteria for lunch if they didn’t want to. Here the kids had books for every class that they took home, no paper copies. Here there were enough desks in every class. Here every kid was expected to succeed and they had no choice. If you didn’t do well, you were asked to leave. I don’t remember seeing a girl who was pregnant (maybe one) and I don’t remember there being a shooting or anyone ever being taken out during the day by the cops. I don’t remember negativity. What I do remember is it being “white-washed”.
From the administrators, to the counselors, to the teachers, to the majority of the students. It was white. It was happy. It was the status-quo. Here you made it, even if you were a “student of color”. Anywhere else, you might have been the exception. Here, you were the rule.
That experience is taken with me everywhere. From being embarrassed in a French class because I forgot my homework on the bus that I had to catch at 6:40 am to being mistreated by a Biology teacher because I had to explain that I couldn’t take my work home with me (it was a project about worms). Both of those teachers asked something that I will never forget, “What’s wrong with you that you can’t keep up or do your work?” The better question would have been, “What’s wrong with you all that you don’t understand that not everyone lives in a house with a white picket fence?” I remember the very nice guidance counselor who did her best to help me complete my English homework (which always had to be typed) by getting me a computer. I also remember her disdain when I explained to her that I couldn’t afford the floppy disks (y’all it was old) to save my work on or a printer to simply print things out. I remember how everyone would praise my High School and I would remember how I wanted to go back to the schools that I’d come from. I wanted to go back to the teachers that were like me.
So what does this have to do with my bias, you wonder?
The classmates that usually rub me the wrong way are the White classmates. They are the ones who point things out about their schools and how great they are doing. They will juxtapose their schools and compare them to other largely “minority” schools in the district and tell you how much better their kids are doing. Now, I’m happy that someone is picking up the task of educating our children, but I always want to ask, “Why are you doing it? Why do you have to speak in that way?” They talk down to their classmates and strike below the belt in their comments (and I’m sure all of us do this). Many times, I feel that they are somewhat elitist. They remind me of the guidance counselor that I had who initially wanted to do some good, but then made me feel as though she knew what was best for me or that I wasn’t good enough. Hearing them speak in class about things, I can’t help but wonder if they truly understand their students’ experiences (as I’m sure they do, they are there enough). I can’t help but wonder if they bring that same, “I know better than you” attitude that comes across in the classroom to meetings with parents. I can’t help but wonder if they KNOW that they give off a sense of superiority.
Or maybe it’s just me.
Whatever it is, it bothers me. I sincerely appreciate their contribution to our society, but after living as a Black child in an impoverished life to grow into a Black woman in this time, it is very hard for me to listen to my White classmates (and sometimes other classmates) when they begin to talk about all of the good they are doing (look at the emphasis there). Maybe they don’t get that it’s a community? Maybe they don’t understand that the child’s aptitude plays a role? Maybe they really do believe that they can “save” a community of people not like themselves?
And that’s where my problem lies.
So, I’m working on this. Hopefully, I can work through this issue enough to speak up in class without feeling as though I’m going to say something HIGHLY inappropriate because there are many times that I want to. But most of all, my hope is that I can really see that they are good people (because they are) and that I’m able to digest their comments without taking any personal offense. Hopefully.
*That isn’t the only reason. I’d like to think that my faith has allowed me to come this far as well.
This post is an original work by Miss C. Jayne. © September 2009
Personal experiences with confirmation bias
Essay on Judgment Biases
Throughout different stages of my life, I have observed my own personal experiences of confirmation bias. The confirmation bias exists when people use evidence to confirm their own beliefs but they ignore or omit any disconfirming information that could contradict these beliefs. The confirmation bias is also known as the selective bias because of this reason, whereby people often neglect any contradictory information that could disprove their convictions.
My mother came to visit me last week and she called attention to a confirmation bias that I have been observing for years but have never took the time to notice it. We were walking out the front door to leave for dinner downtown, and my mother looked outside and noticed the heavy rain falling. She stopped me and said that if I did not bring a raincoat and hat I would catch a cold without a doubt. I have heard that phrase a million times before, but had never viewed the statement as a confirmation bias. I had always attributed the sayings to old urban legends that parents used to scare their children into doing what they are told to do.
After catching a few colds after playing in the rain, I had only supported my mothers’ claims. Nevertheless, this was a clear example of a confirmation bias. In the example of catching a cold in the rain my mother attempted to look for evidence that was consistent with a prior hypothesis. The prior hypothesis in this situation was that you are bound to catch a cold if you went outside without a raincoat. By looking at research that confirms her opinion, my mother exhibits the confirmation bias in her decision making process. In this example catching a cold is the previously held conviction and getting wet is the confirming information.
However this example also ignores any contradictory information against this belief. The conviction does not address the other times and seasons that you can catch a cold. People catch colds in the middle of the summer when the weather is dry and there is little rain. Furthermore, if it is true that wetness or feeling cold causes a person to catch a cold, then we should catch a cold every time we take a cold shower or go swimming in a pool. Although these instances might have been seen by a person who uses this confirmation bias, people often ignore disconfirming information when we already believe in our own views.
As a result my mother did not test her assumptions on what she thought was true because she believed she already had the evidence needed to confirm her beliefs. More importantly, this example shows how the confirmation bias only operates in environments that support a favored hypothesis. This is a significant problem related to the bias because it shows the fundamental flaws in a conviction because all information is not collected and addressed. To correct this bias, extensive research can be done to attempt to disprove my mothers’ beliefs. Although many confirmation biases are caused by laziness and desire to prove a hypothesis, I believe the confirmation bias of hoaxes and legends stems more from a person’s background and cultures.
Another bias that people often use is the fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error exists when people attribute the personality of specific individuals rather than the structure of the organization in the role it has to play in a company’s success or failure. This bias emphasizes that a person’s actions have more to do with their innate personality than the environmental or social forces that could be acting on that person. People have a strong tendency to attribute behavior to character traits rather than structures. The error is also known as the robust error where people downplay the role of situations and system.
The fundamental attribution error is a bias that I recently observed when my best friend’s parents opened up a restaurant. My best friends’ parents opened up a restaurant about three years ago and I have watched their business closely over these past few years including working in the restaurant as a bus boy. It is a very nice restaurant which attracts very affluent customers, but the restaurant relies too heavily on the abilities of its employees instead of developing a good organization. Their restaurant has been primarily focused on developing a ‘star system’ instead of a functional group of talented employees who could work together. The restaurant employs two world class chefs, and a host of attractive waiters and waitresses. My friends’ parents had adopted a star strategy believing that this was the best approach because organizational outcomes were generally not as successful as individual outcomes.
Having worked in the restaurant, it is evident that a better organizational structure is needed. The waiters and waitresses are not trained for their own specified roles and there is often overlapping between the workers. The speed of taking the order, cooking the food and serving the customer is rather slow for a restaurant of this stature because the two chefs work independently. It would be beneficial for the efficiency of the restaurant if one chef was allotted the seafood, whilst the other chef cooked on the grill.
The fundamental error is predictable in this situation because the stars receive more attention than the system. Nevertheless a person must focus on not only the quality of the individuals but also how they are organized and how well they work in the structure. The implications for my friends’ parents are to focus on finding the right people and putting together the right system. This can be achieved through assessing the strengths and weaknesses the restaurant already has, and the limitations that can be anticipated in the new organizational structure.