Select Page

Social scientists use the term implicit or unconscious bias to refer to stereotypes or attitudes that operate without an individual’s conscious awareness or control. These attitudes or stereotypes can affect a person’s thoughts, actions, and decisions in reference to the subjects of their biases, especially when the person is stressed, tired, forced to make a decision quickly, or—more importantly—they have discretion to subjectively interpret and act upon ambiguous information.

It is important to note that implicit biases are both normal and naturally occurring. Everyone has implicit biases because in order to save cognitive resources, our brains are always forming automatic associations. Further, a lot of the time with implicit biases the intention is not there to hurt anyone or make people feel uncomfortable. Take for example the instance of a female lawyer of color who is frequently mistaken as an assistant or a clerk as opposed to the lawyer representing the case. While this may seem like harmless instances of misunderstandings, in reality, they have an additive effect. We can think of this through the example of receiving 1,000 papercuts. At first, one papercut is not so bad but over time they add up. Over time these harmless misunderstandings chip away and can change who you are as a person and how you perceive yourself. This example highlights the importance of intention versus impact. While with implicit bias the intention may be benign, the actual live impacts of these biases can be extremely harmful, dangerous, and negatively impact people’s lives.

Explicit bias, however, is distinct from implicit bias because it refers to an attitude in an individual’s conscious awareness. In these instances, the intention is there to cause harm. Someone who is explicitly biased will publicly endorse their beliefs (e.g. Edward Norton in American History X). While explicit bias was acceptable through the 1950s, as time progressed it became more taboo to express such negative attitudes against a group. Now in the era of Trump, there has been a resurgence in people feeling comfortable again to publicly endorse their biased beliefs. With former President Trump, for example, referring to the coronavirus as the “Kung Flu” and “Chinese Virus” people began to feel emboldened and supported in coming out and professing their Anti-Asian sentiments.

While hate crimes overall have decreased slightly in 2020, over the past year anti-Asian hate crimes have surged by 145%. More and more we are seeing heinous acts against AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) individuals. In the past year, there were 3,800 anti-Asian hate crimes which include verbal harassment, physical assaults, avoidance, refusal of service, vandalism, and online hate. Data from a Stop AAPI Hate Report revealed that 68% of incident reports are towards women (versus 29% of men). For example, take the following excerpt from the Stop AAPI Hate Report:

“I am a Pacific Islander. I was at the mall with a friend. I was wearing a plumeria clip and was speaking Chamorro when a woman coughed and said, “You and your people are the reason why we have corona.” She then said, “Go sail a boat back to your island.” (Dallas, TX)

A recent article by capradio.org highlights the pressing issue of the quality of hate crime data. Specifically, the reality that hate crimes are highly underreported. There is a need to encourage victims to come forward because the better data we have on the reality of hate crime instances, the better we can introduce legislation to address the issues. Over the past several years bills have been introduced that address hate crimes and aim to improve data quality, provide better police training, and establish a hotline for better reporting of hate crimes. These bills have all died and never gotten to the stage of a floor vote. Now, with the urgency we are seeing through the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, bills from as far back as 2017 are being reintroduced. A key element moving forward is to work on better outreach towards victims of hate crimes. Many potential victims may not know or understand the laws or have other reasons for not coming forward such as fear of potential repercussions (e.g. employment, immigration status).

There is also a noted discrepancy between the reporting and prosecution of hate crimes. A map of data shows the California districts in which prosecutors filed hate crime cases from 2010-2019. This shows the additional barrier between getting victims of hate crimes to come forward and being able to provide them justice. San Francisco’s District Attorney (Chesa Boudin) is quoted as saying, “Hate crimes are among some of the scariest and most vile crimes we deal with, and they’re some of the most difficult to prove.”

The Dolan Law Firm, a firm focused on fighting for the justice of their clients, believes that law without enforcement is just paper. While profit is important and necessary for running a successful business and firm, there are some cases that lawyers need to take because it is the right thing to do. One of their previous cases on wage violations best illustrates this. In this instance, they had a client who was brought to America on a work visa sponsored by a Japanese Company. While the visa stated he would be the “head of hygiene and safety” for a sushi restaurant, in actuality he was forced to work 18-20 hour days 6 days a week and live in company housing where he would be harassed and assaulted. He kept silent and compliant because he received threats to his family overseas if he were to speak up. Finally, the victim came forward and to the Dolan Law Firm to seek help and guidance. This is an example of a case that was taken on not for profit, but because it was the right thing to do. Their firm was about to aid him in resolving the case against the employer and bring his family over to America. Through taking this case they had a real and observable impact on this man’s life.

Jury selection is an important component of any court case and the Dolan Law Firm offers advice on that front as well. A juror is not one-dimensional and in order to better understand the biases within them, we must first understand the biases within ourselves. At their firm, they have dedicated a department to an equity, diversity, and inclusion initiative. Through this, they are better able to focus on recruiting and retaining diverse talents. They also pay special attention to how they market themselves as a firm and focus heavily on marketing and community outreach. Importantly they also have a strong focus on education and growth. They hold regular programming that focuses on the themes of diversity, equity, and inclusion. While one may think they are completely unbiased, research shows that individuals experience implicit biases toward a broad range of historically disadvantaged groups with respect to characteristics such as race, gender, weight, and disability. While we may want to think that all of our actions are based on facts and evidence, research has shown that in some instances implicit biases are better than explicit beliefs at predicting behavior. Further, even those who belong to historically disadvantaged groups can harbor implicit biases against their own group. This is explained by the robust messages, both direct and indirect, that we are constantly exposed to regarding these groups in our society.