Chapter 1

Unlearning your bias

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In Why You Need To Change Yourself To Change The World, you can explore oppression and how our own unconscious biases and behaviours can perpetuate injustice.

But what does discrimination look like? And how do unconscious biases impact on people?

The following example from Europe can help us understand discrimination in our own backyard. It challenges us to think about how we can stand with those experiencing it: the racism faced by the Muslim community.

Islam is the second-largest religion in Europe after Christianity, and freedom of religion is a fundamental right protected by the European Union. 

Despite this, people who practice Islam face violent attacks and are disproportionally discriminated against across society. 

This happens because negative attitudes towards Muslims and islamophobia are very common in Europe. 

In 2019, research conducted by the Religion Monitor showed widespread mistrust towards Muslims across the region. In Germany and Switzerland, every second respondent said they perceived Islam as a threat. In Spain and France, about 60% think Islam is incompatible with the ‘west’. In Austria, one in three don’t want to have Muslim neighbours. 

Even though these ideas may be linked to some real experiences, bias arises when we believe that all people belonging to a certain category are inherently bad or less worthy because of their identity. 

These prejudices then translate into discrimination and violence by the non-Muslim majority.

Poor people, women, queer people, black people and people of colour, Roma communities, those who live with disabilities and many others are also discriminated against by mainstream society which believes these groups to be less desirable than the ‘norm’. 

These beliefs are embedded in many of the political and social structures that we live within. 

It may be that you also have some irrational fears, bias and distrust of certain groups due to the way you see them presented in the media or you hear people speaking about them. 

This is normal. However, we need to remind ourselves that not only are those other people as worthy as us, they also face higher obstacles to participate in society and enjoy fulfilling lives. 

Changing this situation starts by changing how we think about others.

Some questions for reflection
  • Have you or those close to you suffered from discrimination overtly (where the bias is explicit) or implicitly (where the bias is embedded, often hidden, in a system or process)? If so, how does it feel to think about this?
  • Have you ever treated people differently because of their identities? Can you identify in your own thinking an implicit bias towards certain groups? How does that make you feel?
  • Do you have a close friend who is interested in social change, that you could discuss these issues with?

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Here are some useful links