Psychologist Hopes to Help Average Joe Examine and Change Subconscious Tendencies
Picture this: four unfamiliar and diverse faces – each person dressed in clothing considered “typical” for their race, ethnicity, gender, or religion – staring at the screen. Users are asked a series of questions – for example, which person is secretly royalty? – and are supposed to respond on instinct only.
The answer may not seem obvious – and that’s the point.
In a new online tool called “Bias out the box,” Winnipeg psychologist Dr. Rehman Abdulrehman hopes to challenge participants to examine their unconscious biases in an effort to change people’s culture and perspectives. The online tool was adapted into an art exhibit for Nuit Blanche in Winnipeg this month.
“Being aware of our biases is critically important for systemic change because we understand our role and impact in these systems, and how our biases support these systems,” Abdulrehman said.
As a clinical psychologist and consultant, Abdulrehman said he works on illicit change in individuals, businesses and organizations. He’s spent most of the past year putting together an anonymous online tool with a range of portraits and questions designed to engage users in uncovering their own biases.
“The issue of diversity, equity and inclusion is very important to me very personally. As a former immigrant, as a person of color, as a religious minority – and a Muslim in particular – I am facing great discrimination, ”said Abdulrehman.
In his practice, he has noticed that many people approach diversity, equity and inclusion with a “checkbox” approach, where hiring choices and small issues become the focal point. While these steps may be temporarily helpful, Abdulrehman said lasting change requires greater insight.
Racist behavior can take many forms. While some people may be blatantly racist, he explained that the subtle actions of “very well-meaning individuals” can have “much more psychological impact” for marginalized people.
“These well-meaning people perpetuate many racist systems and ideologies,” he noted.
“The trauma isn’t just about the big burning crosses… but there is an insidious element of bias that really causes people of color and marginalized people to constantly doubt themselves. it really is. ”
Abdulrehman explained that the first iteration of the Diversity Bias Tool was presented to people of color, who felt “uncomfortable” with their own biases and “internalized racism”.
Comments from whites who used the bias tool (participants have the opportunity to identify their ethnicity and race before starting the test) took on a different tone, Abdulrehman said. Some said the tool “does not apply” to them because they are not racist. Some respondents directed “ignorant” rhetoric against Abdulrehman.
“I understand, there is a lot of tension. There is a great fear of being labeled as racist,” Abdulrehman said. “But what they don’t recognize is that when they remain silent, people assume that the silence means they are complicit.”
The test is for people who are ready to confront their biases and is unlikely to work for those who try to “beat” the test, or claim they have no biases.
“The hope is that this tool allows people to have a very private trip and come to terms with their prejudices,” he said.
In an ad campaign focused primarily on LinkedIn, the bias test recorded more than 1,800 views in 36 hours, with responses from around the world, Abdulrehman said.
The project will remain in place permanently as an anonymous data collection and educational tool.
During Nuit Blanche, which runs from September 24 to October 24, four exhibitions across the city will present at least one of the project’s portraits with the slogan “How do you see me? Abdulrehman explained.
Two banners will be on display at downtown Robertson College, one will be hung long term at St-Boniface Hospital, the larger display will be on display at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce and two will be on display at the parents’ business. ‘Abdulrehman: The Halal Meat Center on West Broadway.
“It made sense to have a place that reflects me,” he said, adding that the store had been the target of systemic racism.
The photos will be linked to the online tool.
“Art is meant to change the way we think,” Abdulrehman said. “Part of my goal is to move Winnipeg from the most racist city to the most inclusive. He was referring to a Maclean’s magazine article in January 2015 which called the city the most racist in Canada.