Monday, August 14, 2017

My experience of implicit bias

Those of us from minority cultures have often experienced implicit bias from others, yet also had the question, 'Was this bias, or something else? Maybe I was the problem?' We never know for sure, and we question ourselves a lot, and get fatigued by the perceived bias.

It has therefore been very freeing to discover psychologists explaining that implicit bias really is a thing. Its can also be helpful to hear other people's stories of bias, and discovering that you're not the only one experiencing it. 

For me, from a young age I experienced teachers demeaning me (the only estate kids in the class). Consequently, I believed that I was stupid. When we were taught long multiplication, I could do it in my head without any working, but when I did this in a test, I was told off for cheating. The teacher said, 'You've got all the answers right, but you don't have any working, so you must have cheated.' I couldn't tell if that was bias or not, but it felt unfair. Years later, when I did well in the 11+ exam, beating the rest of my class, I was offered a scholarship at a prestigious London school. When I told my teacher this, I was shouted at, told I was lying, and sent to the headmistress for punishment. I had many more similar experiences with teachers that I will not bore you with.

My middle class friends growing up also showed me bias. I remember one friend being stunned when I understood one his cultural references to 'The Importance of being Ernest'. Funny thing was he actually said to me, 'Of course you know what this means don't you?' and when I answered correctly. he said, 'Oh!' and looked very surprised and hurt.

In careers advice I also experienced bias. Firstly, I gave up my dream to be a barrister because I was told they would not let my sort pass the bar. When I turned to the Army, I was told I must drop my working class accent in order to become an Officer. However this was not implicit bias, this was conscious bias.

When I went onto various Universities, I regularly experienced bias. None of it was meant maliciously, but it did communicate how I didn't fully fit in. During one lecture, a professor said in front of over 100 people, 'Duncan, you really are an example of urban youth!' which was met with a roar of laughter from everyone. Even in seminary, years later, I would hear comments like, 'So how do your people sit through sermons? What do you teach them? How come you know so much?' One good brother told me how his school told his class they were in the top 1% of the country, better than people like me, and now meeting me challenged his whole paradigm. Another dear brother came to me years later, confessing that he'd had an attitude towards council estate people, but by God's grace, that changed from sitting in lectures with me. Praise God for humble brothers who admit bias.

As a disabled man, I've had a lot of dealings with medical professionals. In general, I feel like I've been talked down to, and treated as if I don't know what I'm talking about. It's hard to not think this is because they see me with my tracksuit, silver chain, tattoo, and make assumptions about my lack of scientific knowledge (prob not aware I have a BSc and have read the seminal text books on my condition).

The church scene isn't a whole lot different: When I arrived at a church as a visiting speaker, a couple of people went to complain to the pastor as I clearly wasn't the right sort. After the sermon, they came up to me, and confessed that they'd had wrong thoughts about me, and been convicted through my preaching. I have multiple similar examples I won't bore you with.

Even when dealing with Church leaders there's still bias. Again, its not malicious, sometimes its throw away comments that reveal people don't think about your culture the same way as you do. For example, 
'You shouldn't be doing a doctorate, you're one of those guys who should be out on the street doing evangelism,'
'I suppose most of your congregation are drunk a lot',
'you must homeschool because your schools are no good', 
'you've got a high chance of one of your children becoming a teenage mum',  
'you say we need more diverse leadership, but we don't want tokenism brother'
'this estate has the worst stats for ....'
These statements, said mostly by good brothers who I respect, don't massively offend me, but they do indicate their perception of my culture is different to mine. Other times, its not what's said, but the patronising way its said. I'm guessing these brothers don't recognise that they sometimes switch into a patronising mode when they talk to people in a lower class.

Now there's also been situations where I don't know for sure if there was unconscious bias at play. Once I got turned down for funding because 'the paperwork wasn't in order' (even though I followed their guidelines), once I corrected this, I got told, 'the application isn't very strong.' Which is it? Could be both? Could be bias? There's so many situations where you wonder, 'Did I get passed over for that job because of bias, or because I'm not right for the job? Did I get passed over for that opportunity because of bias, or because I'm not suitable. Does that person not like me because of bias, or because I'm a muppet? And that's the problem with bias, neither me nor you know about it, because even when it is bias, its often subconscious.

Here's a video of someone elses' interesting story about implicit bias that at places echoes my own:

Monday, August 07, 2017

Are Medical professionals objective about disabilities

One of the things the recent Charlie Gard case brought out was the widespread belief that medical professionals are objective about disabilities.
As a presuppositionalist, I don't believe that any of us make judgments in a vacuum, we all have deep seated beliefs driving us. I believe over the years, our society (including the Government and medical profession) have demonstrated a bias against disabled people.
Two examples of this can be found in the following article.

Firstly, notice how the disabled Lord Skinkwin was effectively sacked from his role as Disability Commissioner to the EHRC within days of being appointed.

Secondly, notice how he claims that the assessment for whether a foetus's disability has enough severity and risk to be aborted (at any time up till birth) is 'subjective, which he says “is borne out by the abortion of 11 babies in 2015 for surgically rectifiable conditions such as cleft palate and hair lip”.
Lord Skinkwin warns us that we are heading in the direction of wiping out disabled people before they can be born.

In the Charlie Gard case, I so often heard people saying, 'But he's in pain, he should be put out of his misery as quickly as possible'. But in response I say, 'The parents say they didn't think he was in pain', and further more, 'I am in constant pain with my disability, should you put me out of my misery?' I'm not saying there's not a time and place for turning off life support, I'm merely challenging how quickly our society assumes its time to kill because of disability.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Why I posted about Charlie Gard

I almost never get involved in Facebook debates. Twitter, yes, but my personal FB account is just for relaxing. If someone sends me a work related fb message, I even ask them to email me instead. So why did I get involved about the Charlie Gard case?

In my world, which is primarily a South London working class world I've seen nothing but support for the wishes of Charlie Gard's parents. Whether its been the wishes for him to die at home, or to have experimental treatment. People have thought the parents should have more say than the hospital or the courts. In my world, people have been shocked at GOSH's response over the months. My world is a world that often sees 1) the courts refuse good working class dads access to see their kids, and 2) social workers hastily remove kids from their working class parents. My world has been continually told that 'we don't know what's best for our kids'. That we're emotional, whilst others are objective. But we don't think that's right, nor do we think the courts and medical professionals are as objective as they think they are. So, I just assumed that my Christian brothers and sisters felt the same way. So in this sense, my bad, I was ignorant (see previous posts for the inside joke here)!   

Last Saturday I saw articles being shared on Facebook that reminded me of the typical narrative that if working class people have a different view, they must be ignorant and manipulated, and not objective. One of those articles was by Melanie Phillips. She didn't go so far as to explicitly say that Charlie's parents had been ignorant, but calling the campaign 'ignorant' was close, and she used emotional language when describing either the parents or protestors. So I wrote that, ' it immediately reminded me the spin put on the Brexit referendum. This spin goes like this, 'working class people have fought for an opinion they have, they must be ignorant.' If you listened to Melanie's later article you know that she thinks that the courts, GOSH and herself are objective and only used the facts. She does not however include the working class parent's own assessments of Charlie's condition as facts. I on the other hand believe (as a former doctor told me the other day), that usually its the parents that know best about their children's health. I suspect that some people would agree, but more so depending on the class of the parents.

I wasn't shocked by Melanie's article, I've grown up hearing this narrative for over 40 years, I was shocked, because I was seeing these types of articles being shared and liked by Middle Class Conservative Evangelicals whose comments reflected this narrative. Now, I was a little bit shocked because of Christians siding with the State and assuming its impartiality - but that probably wouldn't have caused me to write a response. But I was more shocked that people felt moved to share and like this POV when its so provocative for the majority of my fb friends who are from council estates and not believers yet. This was similar to how during Brexit, one council estate friend left social media because of the shocking statements they were seeing from middle class Christians. You see, if people see Christians promoting this view that has a lot of classist baggage with it, it makes it harder for them to embrace the gospel that already seems so middle class in its trappings. You might say, everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but when a Christian organisation that I respect, shared Melanie's article, praising its 'perception' (as opposed to the ignorance of others) it meant that this narrative was now being clearly aligned with Christian values. At this point, I felt compelled to weigh in on the subject.

I don't for one second think any of my Christian friends INTENDED harm. But I would suggest there could be the IMPACT of harming the gospel message here. Usually in these situations, the majority culture can't see the impact. For example, I've seen so many Christian blog posts in the USA that have unwittingly offended African Americans. When there have then been complaints, the majority culture has usually pushed back (as people do with me in the UK) complaining that:
1) the minority culture is misunderstanding, 
2) the minority culture is seeing things that aren't really there, 
3) the minority culture is getting too much into justice issues. 
4) The minority culture doesn't get how 'down' I really am with their culture. Over here this includes claims as bizarre as 'my grandad was working class'.
5) The minority culture is showing their own bias (admitting the problem of bias, but claiming its a problem for the minorities, not for the objective majority culture).

Sometimes, people within the minority culture join the majority culture's POV and are used as examples of how there really is no problem. This doesn't however disprove implicit bias at all, because even minorities can be biased against minorities, and we're not a monolith. All the while, even if there's some validity in these points, the teachable moment is lost. Instead of asking questions, the majority culture defends itself. But even journalists and HR departments today admit bias, so we should be all the more open, for the sake of the gospel to consider how our biases hinder the gospel (Ps 4:4; 139:23-24).

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Do you take consultants more seriously than working class parents?

I wrote previously about how with both Brexit and the Charlie Gard case, middle class people in general, easily accept the narrative that the working class are ignorant. This isn't necessarily done maliciously, its just part of unconscious bias. Although Charlie Gard's parents had certain views about the state of their son, and the approach of GOSH, many people have readily seen them as 'ignorant' and 'easily manipulated.' In a similar way, working Brexit voters were portrayed as ignorant and manipulated. Meanwhile, some of the key issues about GOSH, and about Sovereignty (re Brexit),  get ignored.

So today, it interested me to see in the news that a number of hospital consultants at GOSH have in the past had concerns about patient care and senior staff. Will people more readily accept these consultants' views than many working class parents' views about GOSH? For example, when I said in a previous post that 'The automatic assumption that GOSH can do no wrong is troubling.' How did people respond? Did implicit bias play a part in your response? Am I an ignorant working class bloke? A couple of brothers did write to me saying I had misunderstood the Philip's article. Am I manipulated by social media? (As opposed to middle classes being informed by broadsheets) Am I a 'worked up' working class man (as opposed to an enthusiastic middle class man). These are the narratives that are constantly put on the working classes. Now, it might be true, I might be ignorant, manipulated, and worked up, and I might be totally wrong! But the question I want to ask is, 
How do you respond when you hear Dr. Kim a consultant at GOSH say, '"Medical staff have growing concerns over patient care. They feel that Great Ormond Street is not really living up to its name and is living on its reputation."
Do you more readily accept his view? Do you naturally think she is ignorant, manipulated, and worked up? Does she not really understand the situation at GOSH properly? You might say, 'But she works at GOSH, you don't!' That's true, but I have a child who is a regular patient at GOSH. I've also experienced doctors assuming I don't know biology (I studied Kinesiology at University), and that they know my body better than me. I've been misdiagnosed by doctors who haven't listened to me, leading to disastrous consequences. I've also grown up seeing how the State takes away working class children more readily than middle class children. I also studied journalism at Uni (for one term only), and learned about bias and coded language in journalism. I'm not claiming these experiences make my views correct, I'm merely arguing these possibilities of my knowledge base don't get considered with implicit bias. 

If you read my previous post explaining implicit/unconscious bias, you know that its not rational. We don't use the rational part of our brains when we make these judgments. But you can slow down next time, and ask yourself, is there any bias at play here? What if I flip the script? What if I were to imagine a consultant saying what Chris Gard said about his son, would I then take him more seriously? Why? What bias are going on? In what ways do classism, and scientism play a role here? 

What did you think when you read the title of this post? That might reveal bias either way.

For the record, working class people can also have implicit bias against working class people. I'm working class but I'm actually inclined to believe what middle class people say over what working people say! Terrible isn't it! Lets get to know our biases.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What exactly is implicit / unconscious bias?

The following video is helpful, I'll follow it with some bullet points:

1. Our brain processes so much information, that it creates categories of people for making quick judgments. 

2. These judgments are based on our experiences, including stereotype portrayals we've seen in the media. So these judgments are often not accurate.

3. We all do this, no-one is exempt.

4. This affects who people hire to work with. Which means it effects hiring in churches and christian organisations.

5. Unconscious bias leads to micro-behaviours.

6. Following on from my Charlie Gard post, I believe that unconscious bias has been at play in how some people have reacted to the parent's own appraisal of Charlie's condition. In a different way, implicit bias was at play in the sad Madeleine MacCann story. In both cases, there is a general difference of opinion between working class and middle class people. Swap the parents for both sad stories, and you would have found very different public responses.

Charlie Gard and Implicit Bias

I could be totally wrong about this, but felt moved to write it, so here goes.
When I saw a middle class Christian post on Facebook the link to a Melanie Phillips article that called the Charlie Gard campaign an 'ignorant' campaign, it immediately reminded me the spin put on the Brexit referendum. This spin goes like this, 'working class people have fought for an opinion they have, they must be ignorant.' This comes from a false narrative about working class people that has been believed in the UK for years, and leads to implicit bias. In a similar way there is an implicit bias towards Americans in this case who surely cannot possibly understand how our system works (which is contrary to my experience of Americans being far more knowledgeable of our system that we are of theirs)!

Implicit bias means that a middle class person will often not be aware that they are judging a working class person in accordance with the narratives they've grown up hearing. They will conclude the working class person is ignorant or misguided, after all how could a working class person be right over a middle class person?

Implicit bias means a well meaning middle class friend once asked me, 'How come you know so much?' He had been taught a narrative of the council estate man that meant I could not be knowledgeable, and if I was, there must be something mysterious going on.

Implicit bias means that when a middle class family leave their child unattended in a hotel room, and the child is kidnapped, they will still get the full support of the UK police and more. Meanwhile, had the same happened to a council estate family, they would have been vilified. Furthermore, when a postman dad fought hard for Charlie, many working class non-christians supported him, whilst many middle class christians judged him.

This implicit bias means that the smokescreen of 'ignorance' covers over other key issues:

1. Who decides what's best for a child, parents or the state? And how do they decide this?  It might be easier for middle class people to say the state, but look at the state's track record of 'caring' for the working class. I still remember when the state decided it was best for many working class kids to be put in care homes where they would be abused. Its particularly troubling to see Christians advocating for the State's powers over parents.

2. How are the 'best interests' of a child decided? The recent judgment claimed the court could be 'objective', whilst parents might be affected by 'emotion'. To claim objectivity without clearly stating the worldview of the court or the state is disingenuous. GOSH's decision months ago to not allow Charlie to go to the states was not made in a neutral vacuum, there was a worldview behind it. British society needs to acknowledge it has a non-neutral worldview that impacts decisions.

3. What does the state mean when it says it does what's best for the child? As a disabled man in constant pain and low quality of life, I am deeply concerned about some of the implications here. Look at the trend for how disabilities are being treated in the UK. What is the worldview behind this?

4. Is the state consistent with this message? The state has killed millions of children under the premises of 'its better for the child to be aborted than unwanted' as well as 'its the mother's choice'. How can we know when to trust the courts' statement that, 'its in the child's best interest.'

5. Do parents have the right for second opinions, and experimental treatment they can pay for? And if they do, why criticise parents who do so? GOSH could have very easily allowed Charlie to go to the States when first requested, why were they so obtrusive? The BBC say, 'Prof Julian Savulescu, an expert in ethics at Oxford University... believes Charlie's parents should have been allowed to take him to the US earlier in the year - even with the low odds that the treatment would have worked - given that they had raised £1.3m themselves. He says GOSH - and the doctors the hospital consulted - made a "value judgement" that was reasonable to disagree with.''

6. Do wealthy parents have the option to get their child the help they think they need? Had Charlie been born into a wealthy family, with private health care, could he have traveled to the USA and had treatment? I genuinely want to know what my options are if one of my children is sick under the NHS.

7. We have not yet been given any conclusive evidence that Charlie would not have benefited from treatment sooner. What narratives were at play that prevented this? What about all the other children who were told they should pull the plug, only to then see that child grow all the way into adulthood whilst contributing to society? What role should hope play in these situations (Love always hopes).

8. Some of us do have a distrust of doctors. Sometimes this is based on bad diagnoses, and incorrect operations (both in my case). Other times it is because us working class people are used to having medical professionals talk down to us, telling us our opinions about our body or our children's bodies are wrong (also my experience). Medical staff need to be trained in implicit bias, so that they can become more trusting of us, and rebuild trust.

9. The automatic assumption that GOSH can do no wrong is troubling. The medical profession itself is very confused right now with remnants of the hypocatic oath mingled with abortion services.

10. What does 'die with dignity' mean? My belief in the afterlife affects my understanding of this phrase. But the phrase is used far too broadly today without clear definition.

Lastly, if the word 'ignorant' is being used, why is it being used of the parents who knew Charlie better than any of us? Should it not be used of those sitting in their armchairs pontificating on how they know what's better for Charlie (based on reading the GOSH statement that was written by their lawyer)!

I take comfort in the fact that God is not classist. If anything, he shows special favour to the needy. I thank God that one day he will bring about a world devoid of classism. Even if Charlie's condition was something that could not be stopped, surely classism can?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

At the Cross

I wrote this two years ago when going through a hard time. We've only recently got round to recording the vocals for it. Enjoy.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Where have all the council estate christians gone: CONCLUSION

Following on from my last post here
My conclusion is that we need to supplant the middle class dream with Psalm 1. Instead of thinking, 'location, location, location', we need to think 'Spiritual transplantation'.
 Alex Motyer has explained how Psalm 1:3 is describing being transplanted beside living waters (Psalms by the Day). The idea here is not to move to a different location, but to be spiritually transplanted into God's word.

For me, there's always been a pull to move away from my estate. It seems life would be easier and better if I did. There may come a time when it is wisest to move, but what I've had to keep learning over the years is to be the tree thats been transplanted by God's living waters, as I meditate on his word.

Our discipleship, as well as our hopes and dreams need to be about that transplanted tree, not the person who moves to a 'better' location.