‘Everyone has some kind of bias.’ Bibb school, healthcare workers get training to find theirs.

Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke discusses the Macon-Bibb County School-Justice Partnership Agreement at its signing on Tuesday.
Bibb County District Attorney David Cooke discusses the Macon-Bibb County School-Justice Partnership Agreement at its signing on Tuesday. mjaugstetter@macon.com

It is as ubiquitous as oxygen on earth. But most people are unaware they are breathing it.

Implicit bias, Bryant Marks said, is a matter of exposure, not hate.

“When you understand how it works, now you can do something,” he said to a group of more than 50 police officers, health care workers and school psychologists gathered in the Bowen Brothers room at the Wells Fargo building downtown.

Marks, of the National Training Institute on Race & Equality, led the first training session of “Implicit Bias: Making the Unconscious, Conscious” on Tuesday.

Offered to the public by the Macon-Bibb County School-Justice Partnership, the free workshop aims to help people recognize when they have a bias toward a specific group of people and manage it to ensure fair treatment.

What you are exposed to helps shape your biases. For example, if you watch NFL football regularly, “you are being overexposed to the physicality of black male bodies and the mentality of white male minds,” Marks said, noting that often most players on the field are black men while head coaches, analysts, owners and coordinators are white men.

Implicit bias forms “right underneath your nose” even if you’re just watching a sport for entertainment, he said. People with implicit biases are not aware they have them.

Like people, institutions also do not treat everyone the same, even if trying to do so, data from numerous studies shows. Justice systems and school districts are not immune.

“In order for the justice system to be fair and just, we have to treat everyone the same,” Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke said. “This type of training helps people see where their biases are because everyone has some kind of bias.”

Cooke, who recently studied the school-to-prison pipeline, said all the data he has come across shows “that the disparity in justice is real and dramatic.”

July marked the one-year anniversary of the school-justice partnership, an effort to put a halt to the prison pipeline. A new partnership with Peach County schools launched in July.

“When you focus on intervening kids at school who commit low-level offenses, not only are kids of color less likely to be over-prosecuted as compared to white kids, but also that way school systems handle seems to be more equitable,” Cooke said.

The partnership allows students to get the same treatment and services that a juvenile court judge would order, only faster and without a court appearance. Quicker treatment has helped keep students from re-offending, according to the District Attorney’s office.

A student who is arrested is twice as likely to drop out of school. A student brought to court is four times as likely, according to statistics from the District Attorney’s office.

During the first year of the partnership, 207 Bibb County middle and high school students were issued written warnings for low-level crimes like theft, marijuana possession and fighting. Only 10 students were referred to the partnership a second time before the end of the school year in May, according to the District Attorney’s office.

A second free training is set for Sept. 30 from 1-4:30 p.m. Participants must register in advance at https://cjcc.formstack.com/forms/training_macon .

Marks offered the following tips to those seeking ways to identify and reduce implicit biases:

  • Take the Implicit Associations Test online at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html
  • When meeting someone new, do not ask “socially lazy” and “loaded” questions such as “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” Instead, ask individuating questions such as, “What are your hobbies?” and “What’s your favorite movie?” Those questions allow you to see another person as an individual instead of a category.
  • Counter stereotypic images by imagining positive ones. For example, if you have an implicit bias toward Muslim people, try to envision a Muslim family eating dinner together.
  • Increase opportunity for positive contact with groups of people you have an implicit bias toward.
  • Perform duties in a consistent manner that eliminates the relevance of biases. For example, instead of a police officer deciding whether a driver gets a ticket or a warning, the officer could decide to ticket every third motorist he or she stops to eliminate moments of discretion that could be compromised by biases.
Laura Corley covers education news for The Telegraph, where she advocates for government transparency and writes about issues affecting today’s youth. She grew up in Middle Georgia and graduated from Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism.