DR. CUMMINGS: The three faces of bias

February 2, 2014 

Sunday night everybody in Denver will be screaming for the Broncos, and everybody in Seattle will be shouting for the Seahawks. Clearly biased, both of them.

The dictionary gives these synonyms for “bias”: predisposition, preconception, predilection, partiality, proclivity, bent, leaning. I see three distinct ways this takes place, three different faces of bias. The first two bring diversity and spice to my life and I love them. The third makes me ill.

First bias: Team loyalty. Nobody has a problem with loyalty. If your home is in Denver or if your kids go to school there or if you just like to ski there, you’ll have a proclivity to cheer for the Broncos, and even Seahawks fans will understand that. Or if you think the Bronco quarterback is a glory-hugger who doesn’t give his team enough credit, like the otherwise delightful woman next to me, you’ll turn off the TV set when he begins to win. A bias like this is accepted because it doesn’t hurt anybody.

I remember the famous lawyer Frank Jones of Macon who became the senior partner of an Atlanta law firm and had a home in Buckhead. On that Saturday when Georgia played Georgia Tech, he’d invite his Macon friends to come watch the game. He had a Georgia TV in one room and a Tech set on the other side of the house. He loved the raucous noise of this bias. He could tell from his kitchen which side was winning.

Second bias: Politics and religion. This one can get a little dicey, but we can still live with it. This bias moves up from blind loyalty to a logical, reasoned position. If I believe in small government and capitalism, I will vote for a conservative. If I believe in large government and the redistribution of wealth, I will vote for a liberal. Likewise, if I was raised in a Jewish or Christian or Muslim family and I buy into that particular faith and those traditions, I have good reasons for my bias, and as long as I don’t hurt others -- like the radical Islamist -- my bias will be almost universally accepted.

Third bias: Black/white racial prejudice. This one isn’t funny like team loyalty, and it has no logical reasons for existence like politics and religion, and it does nothing but hurt other people. When a qualified black man was turned down for a job or a qualified white student lost out to the quota system at UGA, we hated it.

But it’s deeper than that.

Several years ago, a group of concerned black and white residents of Middle Georgia formed the Center for Racial Understanding. We rented a building on Second Street in Macon and hired an executive director and worked for two years to “understand” each other. Our funding ran out but so did our enthusiasm. The white members lost interest in talking about slavery, but many of the black members felt this was the only topic that would lead to understanding.

We want to keep our first two biases because team loyalties and religious and political leanings will always be the spice of our lives. But the third bias has got to go. We have enough highly competent black and white leaders if they can just learn to understand each other. In fact, I believe, that once race prejudice is obliterated, Middle Georgia will be the finest place in the South to live. Education will improve, jobs will return, teen pregnancy will diminish and the economy will boom.

“I’ve got a dream; a dream that blacks and whites in Middle Georgia will respect and accept each other, not for the color of their skin, but for the content of their character.”

Come on. Is that too much to ask?

Follow Dr. C’s leadership videos on www.digitallydrc.com

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