Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bias and Prejudice

These two things have always bothered me...bias and prejudice. I have encountered both in my life, as I am sure others have.

Prejudice in my mind starts negatively with preconceived ideas and bias develops over time resulting in a negative place. In general both have negative outcomes.

I have experienced prejudice of the kind that Indians are smart people. Which is not necessarily negative, but it can be if the person thinking is thinking of themselves as not smart and then they use it against you. Now I always have to tell my students that smartness is good, but hardworking is also good. I don't know if I am smart or not (I don't want to measure my IQ), but hard working is definitely in my nature. I think that does make them feel a little better.

The other prejudice I experience is my age: everyone thinks I am just a young girl. I am glad I look young, but I have experience and I have a mind. I can make decisions and I have something to contribute to the discussions in which I am not taken seriously.

One prejudice that affected me a lot when I was a post doc was when someone said, "Girls cannot do good chemistry." That really bothered me. I could not even imagine what lay ahead of me in my life. Was I ready for this fight in my life? I did not want to fight. Being a professor has alleviated some of that issue. Now I am more respected for being a chemist and not challenged.

And now for bias. I believe bias is a learned behaviour. I can have a bias if I like a person or dislike them as a result of their past behaviour. And of course if I like the person then I can forgive small mistakes, which I will not forgive if I dislike the person. The like or dislike can be considered as bias.

I like to think that I am not biased against anyone; if two people come to me with the same problem I treat them the same way. This is especially true in my classes. I do have to give a disclaimer sometimes and tell the students that sometimes I have to decide according to different people's circumstances - which really can be quite different. But that I think is not bias - it is a situation.

I have experienced bias towards me so many times, and there has been nothing I can do about it. I think bias comes from a failure to be fair; a failure to see the difference between right and wrong. It is very hard to remove a bias. By the time a bias is in someone's mind, its game over.

Sadly, this "game over" has been for me a few times. I wish there was some way to remove bias from people's minds. It is negative and it destroys people's lives. It takes a mature and learned person be fair and unbiased.

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