On Friday, March 30, 2018, Dr. Ben Daniel, a Greenville area dentist, arranged for his former Wofford College football teammate, Dr. Brian Chad Starks, to address an audience at The Equipping Center. If you would like to read my summary of Dr. Starks’ excellent message, “Implicit Bias: Disrupting Your Perceptual Lens,” please read on. . . .
“Implicit Bias: Disrupting Your Perceptual Lens”
By Dr. Brian Chad Starks, BCS and Associates
The Equipping Center
62 E. Antrim Drive
Greenville, South Carolina
Friday, March 30, 2018
Summary of and Editorializing by Dr. Bob Stouffer, Upper School Principal, Southside Christian School, Simpsonville, South Carolina. (Any and all mistakes in this transcription are mine alone.)
Dr. Daniel introduced his former Wofford College teammate:
From Columbia, South Carolina.
Columbia High School.
A freakishly good defensive back (in the Wofford Hall of Fame).
Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, with an additional Master’s Certificate.
Ph.D., Delaware College.
He walks the walk. He talks the talk.
A social scientist.
Now lives in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Teaches at Lynchburg College.
“He has the tools to help the city of Greenville, South Carolina.”
In my college classes, I have conversations. I do not lecture. I take every opportunity I can to advocate for social justice. We know about the social ills of our communities for centuries. We have to have honest conversations. Sometimes, diagnoses don’t feel good. Our relatives who “educated” us are no longer around, but their teaching is still with us.
My mom didn’t think I should go to college. That upset me. Crack cocaine looked like a better option than a college scholarship. I resolved to take a little bit of control in this situation. My mother had put her arms around me to protect me from the fall from inequality, if I didn’t realize my dream of college.
My mother had been one of 14 children who were birthed with the purpose of providing for the family. Her identity didn’t matter, except with the power structure of class. She wasn’t looking forward to school. She was a domestic servant. She served as an elementary school custodian when she worked. Men were laborers in her world. She suffered from lack of exposure. I wasn’t afraid. My education started way before I got to Wofford College.
We categorize by race, age, and gender. WE put people in boxes. I didn’t fit into the boxes or molds. I wanted to learn why I didn’t choose alcohol and drugs. I wanted to bring solutions to those problems.
I fought with Wofford students. My coaches were messengers on the journey. They listened to me before they made decisions about me. I’m in debt to the messengers in my life. They helped me figure out my identity.
I owe you my conversation in Greenville, South Carolina.
When you think of identity, what do you think about?
I have had 22 years of formal education. I saw that I could have an impact on the criminal justice system. I created relationships with people in the system. It was uplifting. I was doing it. But I realized I was taking advantage of vulnerable people at the most vulnerable time in their lives. My mother was making $12,000 per year. I was making $12,000 a month as a bail bondsman.
I quit the business and looked for Ph.D. Programs. I became a scholar. My Wofford Coach used to tell me, “Son, you’ve got to find a better way to address your problems.”
What did I start doing about the issues in communities? I looked at how people got involved in crime. I looked at the issues of bias.
Social media give venues for conversation AND for us to latch onto biases. How can good-hearted people still have biases? There need to be equitable opportunities for success! This isn’t the 50s or 60s! I thought we were in a post-race color-blind society?!
Bias is unconscious now. Are we still seeing the outcomes of discrimination in health care, housing, criminal justice? Yes.
But more-so today, implicit bias is plaguing our country. Where did that come from?
What did your grandmother teach you? What did your parents teach you? What is being discussed at family gatherings today in your homes? What about LBGT? Beliefs need to be grounded in research, not biases.
I use 4 constructs in my social justice work.
Identify, Culture, Diversity, and Respect
[Dr. Starks asked us to come to the front table and choose one of several different cards featuring the constructs of his social justice work.]
Why did you choose the card you chose? Why does the evening news lead off with the worst news of the day? Why does the National Enquirer sell more than the New York Times? We take unconscious pleasure in seeing people suffer.
How often do you self-reflect on what makes you tick? We all have biases from our own cultural conditioning. I do it. I discriminated against women when I chose the administrative assistant for my bail bondsman business. When I came to awareness of my discrimination and called it to the attention of one of these women, she wasn’t even aware of the bias.
Women have been breaking barriers for centuries. In 2017, I was in the room when an energetic new white President, who had grown up on a tobacco farm, compared the work ethic of an African-American female vice-president to a tobacco farm slave. She didn’t even realize what he had said until she got into her car and wept afterwards. But no one confronted the President, well-meaning as he might have been. Someone tried. I told him I wanted to meet with him. He said to send an e-mail. I sent multiple e-mails with no response.
We can’t turn our back on injustice. You have to challenge unjust conversations. We’ve got to change the way we talk to each other. And maybe bring in Dr. Starks in for a diversity conversation.
How do our kids see themselves? Middle school kids have the highest rates of suicide in the U.S. They don’t know how they feel about themselves. They have hopelessness. We need to appreciate differences.
How do we see each other? The way I am dressed today, I look like a Furman professor. When I’m wearing baggier clothes and a hoody, I can be stereotyped and labeled, too.
Acknowledging one’s race isn’t racism. Using race against the person is. What does that say about our society or us as individuals? Wofford trained us to think critically; difference, if done right, can improve us all. What would be the purpose if we all look the same?
This is not about changing each other. Why don’t you not want me to love my skin or my hair (dredlocks)? You don’t have to lose your identity? You can add to your identity as a holistic personality which is always going to be growing. Grow new ways to respond to hurt and pain. Kids can’t do it alone.
What are we telling our babies sometimes? Are we letting them go out the doors unprepared for the realities of life? The best bail bondsman told me to cut my hair, because no judge would take me seriously, he said. Man, we got a long way to go, if that’s the case. That’s not an inequitable fight. Is hair that important? Does it matter that much? As you can see, I didn’t take his advice!
The length of my hair has nothing to do with the words come out of my mouth. I love my identity, because it’s mine. You can’t ask me to be ashamed of something that was outside of my control. You want to drop the hair style on these people who are struggling with so many issues in their lives?!
You have to be uncomfortable to get comfortable. One of the best things that happened to me was to be bused at 9. I had to meet people who were very different than the students in my neighborhood.
How many of you had black professors in your college journey?
Cultural competency matters. Why do we limit kids in their education? Understanding different cultures allows you to relate to other people in great opportunities.
I didn’t know the Irish-Catholics were the first to coin the term, “ghetto.” I got excited in graduate school: “It ain’t just us!!”
Can we have a conversation about how the criminal justice system has grown? Let’s change the perspective. We demonize others. We’ve got to disrupt implicit bias. Teach people BOTH SIDES of the issues. Be a messenger of justice. Reach and search out the truth.
We have so much learn. We’ve got to stop acting like we’re going to know everything about everybody. I get to learn from students every day. I don’t know it all.
Whenever you expose inequality and mediocrity, expect to be labeled the villain. You’ve got to challenge bad thinking. Build equality through good stewardship.
We talk about doing what’s right. Do we change our value systems when things get tough? I want the social ills fixed.
Diversity is the cuss word in this discussion. We can’t check the boxes on people’s lives. Diversity is a way of thinking and knowing and appreciating differences. What are we educating our society to be when it comes to diversity? Are we asking for different ideas? I’m working with NASA to open opportunities for women and people of color — people who have been marginalized the most. We’ve got to start having the conversations.
We’ve got to connect the disciplines and communities. I am a social scientist working with a physics professor to increase the number of women and African-Americans at NASA. NASA wanted to know if I would speak at their national conference. I said I would be “pleased” to speak at the conference. I got 10 minutes the first year, 20 minutes the second year, 30 minutes in the third year, and 60 minutes every year now! I am very proud of that. How did that happen? I was a messenger. I took my identity and challenged the status quo. We shouldn’t separate. We should work inter-disciplinarily. I have earned the moral authority to speak into these issues.
When you leave here, you will all be messengers. What kind of conversations are we going to have? As messengers, you’re going to have to take some risks with your family and friends. You don’t want to let your “team” down. I’m asking you to engage in self-reflection. Do you engage in implicit bias? Write it down. Face your emotions. Fear doesn’t give you the right to discriminate.
Respect comes easily after we get a good hold on identity, culture, and diversity. We must appreciate everyone’s identity. It doesn’t mean you have to agree. Get out of the way of other people’s thinking and identities. You’ll be free. Face your biases. You won’t be stressed. You’re always thinking. We have to take steps to disrupt implicit bias.
We say we don’t see color. That’s been said to me a million times. You really going to say that to me, Black as I am?! Don’t blame me for my color. I love it when I look in the mirror. I don’t see grey. I don’t see pastel. I see black. Don’t you want me to appreciate that?! Don’t you appreciate who you are?!
The more information we have, the better decisions we can make. But that makes us afraid; with more information comes more responsibility. I had no excuses at Wofford. It was hard. Education first. Formal. And informal. Take the time to teach the kids. Be messengers of justice. Take advantage of fertile ground.
Parent at teachable moments. Put your money where your mouth is. You can’t just walk away from injustices and believe the injustices will take care of themselves. Have conversations about decision-making. Learn about others. Have diverse ways of thinking about culture. You can’t take a paint brush and stroke every situation with the same color. Recognize the diversity and the diverse ways of responding to situations, which empowers you and empowers the people you are giving to.
I need you to be messengers. You need to challenge with respect. Listen to each other. Share information. Be filled with the Spirit. Add. Don’t take away from each other. Come together for a common goal of humanitarianism. We all have to be soldiers of justice. Sometimes, the responses will need to be immediate. Do the right things. I appreciate the opportunity to do some truth-telling today. Thank you.
How can we bring awareness to Greenville having the 4th largest concentration of poverty in the country, when the city is receiving so many awards for being such a great place to live? [This question was asked by a Caucasian man.]
We need to come up with intervention strategies. Tap into the strategies which have been successful in other communities. Education is key. Connect students to opportunities. Fix the systems. Transportation barriers must be eliminated. Feed the poor. Try strategies, even when they don’t work. Don’t breed negative; language has power; don’t use words which perpetuate negative stereotypes.
Have you read the Harvard study of African-American boys who are still not earning as much and are incarcerated more? [This question was asked by an African-American man.]
I have not.
We are expecting our first child, and we’re concerned about our son coming into the world which has explicit bias against black men? [This question was asked by the same African-American man.]
Honesty. Be direct about the issues with your son. Give examples of overcoming biases. Prepare kids for the realities they will face outside your home. Brainstorm with your children. Role-play situations which can be dangerous.
We have adopted a black son. My biggest struggle is the best place for him to go to school. Race or academics? [This question was asked by a Caucasian woman.]
I’m greedy. I haven’t done the research. I say both. Community. Informal and formal education. Give him the best education. And find mentors to get both. Black fraternities provide opportunities for African-American students, including those from single-parent homes.
Do you co-present with white colleagues? Is there synergy? [This question was asked by Dr. Daniel, a Caucasian man.]
Yes, [with a broad smile] we complement each other well. We are friends.