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Implicit bias speaker: ‘If you have a brain, you have a bias’

Mr. Parker making a presentation in front of an audience.

Dr. David Allen Parker, University of Utah professor, presented to a group of military and civilian Airmen Feb. 19, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, to discuss the meaning of implicit bias and how it relates to cultivating an inclusive workplace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Cromar)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Dr. David Allen Parker, University of Utah professor, presented to a group of military and civilian Airmen Feb. 19 at Hill Air Force Base to discuss the meaning of implicit bias and how it relates to cultivating an inclusive workplace.

Parker works regularly with organizations by helping them create and sustain positive and authentically-inclusive cultures and climates.

He shared a story of a time he went to a grocery store and was greeted by a stranger who asked him if he would return to the store on a specific day and time.

When Parker asked why, the man said “I’d like to bring my children to meet you. They’ve never met an African American before.”

“I’m not here on display,” Parker jokingly replied to the stranger, who quickly apologized.

Parker used the story to illustrate there are times when we do and say things that have an unintended impact on those we interact with.

“Science tells us, if you have a brain, you have a bias. Bias is a way of sorting out information that comes into our brain,” he said. “It’s based on stereotypes about a person or group and it’s automatic.”

However, he foot-stomped, there’s nothing wrong with having bias depending on how you choose to use it. “It is a choice to let bias control your behavior,” Parker said.

Parker discussed the results of a 2016 research study done with 220 third-year medical students that showed black Americans were systematically undertreated for pain relative to white Americans.

In the study, 25% of the students believed black skin was thicker than white skin. In addition, 14% believed that black people’s nerve endings were less sensitive than whites.

“How comfortable would you be going to a doctor knowing that they make decisions and that they might have these beliefs or not?” Parker asked. “If we are going to change, we have to be accountable.”

He said research indicates that people are wired to interact and to be part of a group, and explained that by being “intentional” and “connecting with people” you can reduce the bias effect.

He detailed a number of initiatives, including stepping outside your comfort zone and challenging yourself to hang out with someone you don’t have something in common with.

He also encouraged the audience to create what he calls a “critical group of friends,” a small group of people that you can have honest conversations with about bias.

Parker said the goal is to meet regularly with a group of people who can help you understand and improve, and who won’t hold it against you when you say something that may not be as sensitive or inclusive as it should be.

“What works is when we can connect with conversation. We need to talk about it over and over,” Parker said. “Do it often or as needed.”