Social Bias & the Internalization of Discrimination: How Exposure Perpetuates Behavior Patterns

Thoughts and words conveyed are representative of the individual author, and not representative of UNA-USA or the UN Foundation.

Washington D.C., February 10, 2023: Many of us watched video footage of five black Memphis police officers use excessive force on a black motorist, Tyre Nichols, sitting at a red light in his car on the way home. The video begins with several of the officers approach the driver’s window, commanding him to step out his car. While Nichols ultimately got out of his vehicle, he ran to escape the intense confrontation with members of the police departments special tactics unit. It was difficult to reconcile everything I saw to understand why this father, son, skateboarder, and beloved community member was treated so brutally especially by other men of color who shared a similar socio-demographic status with him—they were all black men.

Howard Ross is a world renown expert in the field of Unconscious Bias, and he believes that when people are exposed to biases, even ones that adversely affect them, through exposure they tend to adopt these behaviors and in turn display them, even towards others who they share similar identities. I must admit that when I learned the race of the police officers, I was shocked. I could not believe the unmeasured, animalistic behavior I saw from an underweight skateboarder at the hands of trained law officials in tactical gear.

As a certified Diversity & Inclusion practitioner, I have seen patterns of behavior within social demographics that reinforce this theory; however, as we continue to see and hear about behavior like this in our communities it begs for our attention and advocacy to reduce them. It is imperative that we examine the undercurrents that circulate and perpetuate biases, stereotypes and discriminatory behavior that affirm hierarchies of social values. Cultural inclusivity and openness do not start or end within the police department; it is a continuum that run across schools, businesses and other outlets and they serve as social hubs that can curb behavior and set the tone for healthy communities. Every person has a voice and sphere of influence to be a champion for equality, dignity and respect and can be a change agent for peace, justice, and strong institutions.