How Unconscious Biases Affect Black Women Today

by Georgina Lawton

Although women from the African diaspora are scattered across the globe and belong to many different cultures, many of us share similar concerns about how we are perceived. Oftentimes, these concerns have emerged as a result of the global white-washing of culture that's spanned hundreds of years. In the Western world, unconscious biases that are affecting black women today are the result of societal and economic structures that have consistently and deliberately excluded the beliefs and needs of black women.

Historically, European-centric beauty standards have either erased black beauty trends from magazines and catwalks entirely, or else "borrowed" (read: appropriated) whatever is deemed trendiest at the time without ever acknowledging the history of style. Societal norms have also made it harder for black women to fit in at work and school; research shows black girls are expelled more often than their white counterparts despite there being no evidence to suggest they behave worse. Additionally, a wide body of research shows an implicit biases in the workplace towards hiring those with names society codes as "white" over those which are typically coded as "black."

Although many would like to believe we exist in a post-racial society, research offers extensive insight into how preconceived notions of black femininity is still impeding the advancement of black females in Western society today. Implicit bias is real — and it's something we still have to work to overcome.


Your Quality Of Health Care May Decline If You're A Black Woman

Recently, news emerged that the mortality rate due to cervical cancer is worse than we thought — and it also disproportionately affects black women. The same, it turns out, is true for breast cancer mortality rates: Black women suffer disproportionately. There are undoubtedly a wide variety of causes for this disparity, but it seems likely that accessibility to and implicit biases in health care treatment has something to do with it.

For example, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found in 2012 that Latino and African-American patients receive substantially poorer health outcomes than white American patients. What's more, Forbes reported in 2015 that "racial and economic inequities in screening and treatment options" directly contribute to the racial differences in women's breast cancer survival rates.


Black Hair Is Still Viewed Unfavorably... By Everyone

This month, afro hair company Shea Moisture joined forces with The Perception Institute to conduct "The ‘Good Hair’ Study: Explicit and Implicit Attitudes Toward Black Women’s Hair." They created a "Hair Implicit Association Test" (IAT), which was comprised of a series of questions directed at 4,000 men and women to see how they'd respond to black women's hairstyles, such as braids, dreads and afros. Research proved that across all demographics, “a majority of people, regardless of race and gender, hold some bias towards women of color based on their hair."


Black Girls Are Punished More In School, Even Though They're Not Any Worse Behaved Than Other Students

In schools, black girls are suspected of worse behavior even when they aren't out of line — and they're often wrongly punished for it. A 2014 report from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Women's Law Center found that black girls are the most likely group to be suspended from school, even though evidence points to the fact they are no worse behaved than other students.


Black Women Are Often Judged IRL According To Pervasive Media Stereotypes

Media heavily influences where these implicit biases come from. As race-vlogger and MTV presenter Franchesca Ramsey notes in the video above, limited portrayals of black women in TV and film have long been relegated to a selection of repetitive, one-dimensional stereotypes. This lack of representation has a direct impact on how black women are viewed offscreen, too. Ramsey points out that "The Jezebel" (the over-sexualized woman), "The Mammy" (the unattractive, dark-skinned maid or slave), and "The Sassy Black Friend" (this one is self-explanatory) all have their roots in the racist depiction and treatment of black women during during the Jim Crow era and beyond — and still crop up far too often in mainstream media today


Black Women Are Under More Pressure To Appear Competent In The Workplace

Double discrimination occurs when women of color face biases unique to their racial or ethnic background in addition to their gender. Joan Williams a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law examined implicit biases black women working in science, technology, and engineering jobs experienced and discovered that 77 percent of scientists who were black women said they felt as if they are under more intense pressure to perform well at work, compared to 66 percent of scientists who were women overall. Said Williams according to CNN Money in 2015, "Black women often feel like they can't make a single mistake. They would lose all credibility."

In a proverbial nutshell, this is why we need intersectional feminism.


Black Women Are At A Double Disadvantage In The Hiring Process

Not only do black women face pressure to make their blackness more palatable at work, but they also struggle to get their foot in the door in the first place. It's a one-two punch here: First, consider a widely-cited study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in 2003. Using 5,000 fake American resumes, the study found that resumes with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to be called for initial interviews than those with black-sounding ones. (This is just one of many studies which have found the same results, by the way.) Then, consider another, recent study that found interview call-backs for a set of 5,000 job applications increased substantially when names coded as "female" were changed to just their initials, thereby making the applications "gender-blind." Knowing the results of both of these studies, you can see how black women might end up in the crossfire of double discrimination once again.


Black Women Are Left On The Shelf In Online Dating

Online dating has long been considered a racial minefield for many black women. But whereas unconscious racial biases were often discovered by talking to potential partners online (which was traumatic enough), many sites now allow users to openly state their dating preferences for other races. And let's not forget that data spanning more than 25 million people across six years gathered by OK Cupid and released in 2014 revealed that black women were the least desirable group on the site according to its users.

So: How do you fight implicit bias? Start with something like the Complicity Cleanse. It's not easy, but a concerted effort towards dismantling your own implicit biases can make a real difference.