by Lillie Gardner, guest blogger
This post is part of a HippoCamp 2022 recap series, with guest blog posts written by HippoCamp attendees. Learn more about our conference for creative nonfiction writers.
Dr. Stacie Walton and Dr. Linda Goodrich brought the implicit bias real talk to HippoCamp 2022. Their fascinating and reflective session “Implicit Bias in the Writing Process” began with the science of prejudice and neuroplasticity and evolved into strategies for identifying and tackling our own implicit biases. No one is immune from implicit bias, they established, so we all ought to understand how it works—to better both our writing and ourselves.
Beginning with definitions of relevant terms, Walton (“the Diversity Doctor”) divided bias into two types—explicit, which is conscious bias (“I hate people who wear purple!” was her example) and implicit, which is unconscious bias (more like: “I already know this person is annoying because they’re wearing purple”). She talked about stereotypes, equated the word “prejudice” to “pre-judgment,” and played a New York Times video that demonstrated how implicit biases are thought processes we might not be aware of or even intellectually agree with.
As Goodrich explained, “We do not see what we don’t expect to see.” Accepting our inevitable shortcomings and opening our minds to new knowledge are key steps in reducing implicit bias in writing.
Walton and Goodrich shared a fascinating video about neuroplasticity through the learning (and unlearning) of how to ride a bike, which demonstrated that knowledge is not the same as understanding. However, practicing with consistency and perseverance can help develop this understanding. For example, we can read and learn all about anti-racism, but we’re not likely to eradicate every race-related strand of implicit bias that’s been wired into our brains. With vigilance and practice, however, we can begin to create new neural pathways in our brains thanks to neuroplasticity.
To support this lifelong journey, Walton and Goodrich recommend a variety of strategies that can work together. These include exploring our early childhood experiences, intergroup interactions, catching ourselves in “the flow of missteps,” and managing our brain states. Our brain states range from the “threat/stress brain state” (closed perception and unconscious choice) to the “higher brain state” (open perception and conscious choice). Being aware of which one we’re in at any given time is an essential first step to recognizing bias. An important approach to all of this, of course, is mindfulness. The presenters recommend yoga, time in nature, walking, quiet environments and journaling as potential ways to strengthen our mindfulness.
The strategies and considerations highlighted in “Implicit Bias in the Writing Process” are so important for creative nonfiction writers, who not only write from our own inevitably biased perspectives, but also must build worlds and characters that are nuanced and authentic. As Anaïs Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” Implicit bias isn’t going anywhere, but accepting this fact is the first step towards taking control and improving our perspectives.