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Know Thy Bias

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Aug. 21, 2021

We like to consider ourselves open-minded, free of inflexible thinking and open to ideas. And we probably are- in certain areas. In others, we are not.

This is one of the few statements I still feel justified making in the absolute. Every person has biases. It's one of the tougher things to swallow when in the psychology profession- that you have biases and you must recognize them for what they are. Some of those you will be able to curb, others you won't. When you know your bias, you know who not to take on to help as a psychologist, be it in counselling, advocacy, coaching, supervising, or anything else.

The same goes for writers and creators. We all go into the creative process with specific biases we may or may not be aware of. The result of an unchecked bias can be a stereotype instead of a fleshed out character, world, or social situation.

Even our pattern recognition as human beings can illustrate this beautifully: we tend to have trouble differentiating facial features in people belonging to races we haven't been exposed to often. This is not a symptom of racism- simply a symptom of exposure, and it happens to everyone: whites can look alike to asians as much as asians can look alike to whites, and the same goes for any race.

But the moment we are exposed longer to that other race, their faces start to have as distinct and striking differences as those of our own race(s). It's because our brain learns and adds new parameters to our pattern recognition of facial features. The bias of ‘all look similar’ is eliminated.

The same goes for creating and writing a character or a culture you may want but have little exposure on, and this is where the adage ‘write what you know’ comes from. Personally, I'd say ‘learn and then write it’ is better.

For learning about foreign cultures and familiarizing yourself about them, watching/talking to several different people from those cultures is key. Consuming media that is intended for those audiences is a must. Reading literature and other pieces made by people from those cultures as well.

That's how you go from writing, for example, a Greek that dances as always breaking plates and yelling ‘opa!’ to a Greek that dances differently when happy, when in grief, when burdened by troubles (yes, the dance culture in Greece permeates everything and we do have grieving dances). Sometimes they will also break plates and yell ‘opa!’ but only in the right moments. That would eliminate such a bias about the Greek dancing culture (which you probably wouldn't know you have, and justifiably so).

The same method works well when writing a person belonging to different groups to your own. For example, I'm a cis white(ish, depending on who you ask) female. If I want or need to write about a POC, LGBTQ, minority, etc person, I need to talk to, read about, consume media, and read literature made by people in those groups. I need to do that because I know I have biases about these groups simply because of a superficial knowledge of them, some of them probably undetected.

The secret to detecting our biases is to assume we probably have them, and go in with a mind of exploration as we do research, rather than barrel in thinking we know what's what because we have one POC friend or have seen one movie about crazy asians, rich or not.

Have you ever grappled with biases?

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PaulEberhardt at 10:49AM, Aug. 23, 2021

Too true! We all have our biases and should be aware of them. I suspect though, that by trying to fight them we really just replace them with other, different ones - it's a human thing. I've learnt to embrace my biases instead of fighting them and try to make them less obnoxious to their targets by presenting them in a fun way. Both my aim and restriction is that I want to make it so that they can laugh about it, too. If that doesn't work, then I still adhere to rule No.1 for satire and parody: only make fun of something they COULD help doing or saying. Fortunately my strongest bias is against bureaucrats, so basically every imaginable slur against them should be safely covered by this rule in any case (I think - correct me if I'm wrong; I did say I'm biased).

Chickfighter at 8:18PM, Aug. 21, 2021

One person's bias is another person's truth? I would say the key is to look for and attempt to address one's biases rather than to essentially embrace them. However using stereotypical characters in bit roles doesn't bother me as the stereotype may actually work as a shorthand for the audience so one doesn't have to go into depth about a character that is only going to appear in a supporting role on perhaps three pages or something.

usedbooks at 4:50AM, Aug. 21, 2021

My sister pointed out that I have a lot of male villains. But... I mean, that's reality? Okay, maybe I am a touch sexist. -_-

bravo1102 at 4:05AM, Aug. 21, 2021

Being aware of bias also helps if you want to put in biased characters and there you can subvert expectations. For example my SF stories are supposedly in the open minded Infinite diversity, infinite combinations (IDIC) universe but there's still ethnic hatred between the supposedly two most enlightened human cultures. And everybody just can't tolerate Grey Guys or furries, the two hated groups that nearly everyone spits on. And Grays( Falasnorians) heavens help you if you have to deal with one of them. They condescend to everybody so wise and never laugh unless they're pulling one over on you. All intelligent species are clannish and tribal, even xenophobic, it's part of the evolution of intelligence. You think outside groups are against you because back in the day all outside groups were out to get you. Us and Not Us.

bravo1102 at 3:53AM, Aug. 21, 2021

I'm not biased, I hate everyone equally. Write your characters as people who just happen to be X not as "my X character " Every group are people first and humans have an annoying habit of acting similarly but often with their own cultural idiom. Fortunately most of my stories are set in the USA so folks are surprisingly homogeneous though with subtle regional differences that non-American people never learn. They think everyone is from Texas or New York. If you're conscious of it, it can be fun when traveling to play up to their expectations like wearing a baseball cap and an aloha shirt. :D.

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