Saturday, January 2, 2021

What to do When Encountering Bias?

 Peter Gumbel in The Times:

My grandparents arrived in England in 1939 as stateless refugees. They felt not just gratitude for their immediate safety but also a deep attachment to the values of openness, decency and tolerance they found in their adopted homeland. Once the war ended, they became naturalized British citizens as soon as they could. In a letter to a friend, my grandfather praised the “generous hospitality and nearly unrestricted freedom” they enjoyed as migrants. They never shed their German accents but switched to speaking only in English.

My parents’ generation, in turn, gave their all for the country that took them in. They inevitably faced some anti-German sentiment in the early postwar years, but simply ignored it.
I am not really saying that this is always the best response, but it worked for Peter Gumbel's grandparents, who ended up recognized by the queen for service to Britain. Other successful immigrants I have read about say they never experienced bias against them, and since that is simply not possible, they must have gotten very good at not noticing it. Maybe sometimes things need to be called out, but it is simply wrong to say that ignoring bias "never works," as Americans these days are very prone to saying. Ignoring bias and quietly getting on with life works very well for some people.


David said...

It may be pointed out that part of Gumbel's point is that ignoring British xenophobia worked for his family, until it didn't. Now, for him, Germany is the shining beacon of liberty and tolerance in Europe, and he and his family have come full circle, renouncing British citizenship and becoming Germans again. That's what a national mandate of anti-bias training can do, even while it fails to prevent the growth of right-wing cells in its police force.

Here's a counterexample, showing what can happen when bias is ignored by authorities, including how bias can become entrenched as a way of life in a whole community, and what can happen when one victim decides he's had enough of it.

To me, anti-bias is a little like flood control. The forces of flood control don't actually "win." But if they decide that not winning means there's no point, and quit, that's when they lose.

G. Verloren said...

I would point out that ignoring things might "work well" and let some people lead perfectly happy and normal lives - but it also doesn't actually solve anything.

Sometimes treating the symptoms of a disease is all you can reasonably do for someone. But we should never stop trying to find a cure, even if only eventually. And we need to remember that for every person who can ignore / work through / tolerate the pain of their condition, there is someone else for whom their situation is unbearable agony.

Stagnation is the enemy. Status quo is the problem. It's one thing to acknowledge that bias exists in all of us and is inevitable. But it's another to argue that trying to fight it is a waste of time because of that inevitability.

It's one thing to suggest that anti-bias training maybe isn't as effective as we would think or would like it to be. But it's another thing entirely to suggest that we should not use that tool because it is flawed, while simultaneously not suggesting a better alternative. Simply doing nothing instead isn't an improvement.