"Reading" Others: Developing Awareness

This video Encounter provides a helpful metaphor to describe how we see different races and offers ways to grow in our awareness of “reading” others.

Yii-Jan Lin is Assistant Professor of New Testament at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. She received her PhD in religious studies from Yale University in 2014. In her monograph, The Erotic Life of Manuscripts (Oxford University Press), she explores the relationship between NT textual criticism and the biological sciences, beginning in the 18th century. In particular, she explores how the metaphors of race, family, evolution, and genetic inheritance have shaped the goals and assumptions of the field. Other research areas include gender, especially ancient constructions of masculinity, sexuality, and literary theory.

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Recognize How You "Read" Others

In this Reflection, learn about ways to recognize more fully how we "read" and categorize others.

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We are called as people of faith to recognize everyone as a neighbor so we can show them the love of God. But because we “read” others with all kinds of layers and interpretations that culture gives us without us even realizing it.

So how do we begin recognizing these cultural layers and interpretations?

When we hear discussions about racial injustice, many people say that it is systemic. But what does this mean? Basically, this means that racism, racial injustice, and racial stereotypes are built into our culture and the way we “read” each other. Because these things are so embedded in our culture, it’s sometimes difficult to know how these racist ideologies affect us. To resist racism and believing those cultural interpretations, it’s important to recognize how you see people of different racesWe must be aware of our own biases.

One way to do this is by taking an implicit association test, which measures bias that is triggered automatically rather than consciously. It’s a quick test that measures how quickly you associate good words/ideas with people of different races. While this test isn’t perfect, it can give you a good idea of your own biases.

Here’s a suggestion of how you can reflect on your biases by using this type of test:

  • Take the test: what are the results? What does this show you about how you “read” other races?
  • Ask yourself: how does this show how racist ideologies are embedded in my consciousness without being aware? Dig deep here – don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and the way you see people who do not look like you.
  • Then, ask: how can I take this awareness of my bias to alter the way I see people of different races? How can this lead to loving my neighbors more fruitfully?

Part of resisting racial injustice is gaining consciousness – the results of this test are not meant to show how racist you are. Rather, they can reveal how the stereotypes embedded in our culture affect the way you see others. We are all called to love our neighbor as ourselves. This requires working for racial injustice and biases to end – we might as well start with ourselves in making these changes.

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Walking Toward Your Bias

Discover ways to address racial injustice by walking toward your biases to change the way you see and "read" others.

In her TED Talk, Vernā Myers challenges viewers to overcome their biases by walking toward them. But what does this look like? Myers suggests three ways to begin this process.

  1. Get out of denial – In our society, it is easy to pretend to be “colorblind.” But not recognizing the biases that have been ingrained within us does little to help fight racial injustice. As Myers claims, the need real people who recognize when they lean on their own biases. Work to understand how you associate people of color with certain actions or personalities. Once you have this awareness, you can begin to dissociate these stereotypes.
  2. Move toward people of color – Myer reminds us that “biases are the stories we make up about people before we know who they actually are. But how are we going to know who they are when we’ve been told to avoid and be afraid of them?” So, instead of standing apart from groups that you may or may not stereotype, build friendships with people that go against the stereotypes. She says that these relationships aren’t about perfection, but about connection. Move away from your comfort zone and build relationships with people who are different from you.
  3. Don’t be afraid to challenge others’ biases – When we see or hear something that is racist or unfairly stereotypes another group, we must have the courage to say something (even with the people we love). Good people say and do things that are wrong – we need to be able to say something because we never know who is going to be around us. Racism is taught, so don’t allow someone to teach someone else (especially children) their biases without challenging them.

Racism is not a thing of the past. We need to recognize our own biases toward other groups of people so that our desire for superiority does not just persist and embed itself further in our institutions, society, and generations.

Recognize your biases, walk toward them, make change.

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