[dropcap]H[/dropcap]ow many friends do you have who are significantly different from you racially, culturally or socially?
How many people who are significantly different from you racially, culturally or socially have you shared a meal with recently?
Is your cafe, gym, subdivision, club, church a place of de facto segregation?
Do you know any homeless people by name?
When is the last time you read–in order to learn rather than critique–a book or article that presented an opposing point of view to that which you hold? If you read Thomas Sowell do you also read Stephen L. Carter?Most of us are unacknowledged participants in confirmation bias the “tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.” A single example can be seen in how news is consumed. People watch Fox News or MSNBC or CNN not because those organizations are the best, most accurate sources of news in all, or even most cases, but because the way they report the news corresponds to how those viewers perceive things to be. Thus, conservatives favor the Wall Street Journal over the New York Times and liberals the Huffington Post over Drudge Report.
A better term, I think, for confirmation bias is intellectual laziness. We never expand our own field of knowledge if 90% of what we read confirms what we already think. Part of the reason is the people who confirm our biases live with confirmation bias.
If all we’re doing is listening to what the Reverend Al Sharpton, Nancy Grace or Sean Hannity have to say about race, we’re not really formulating an opinion. Instead, we’re just having our stereotypes reinforced. As a result, every white person who carries a gun is just another cowboy looking for a black person to shoot. Every black kid with a hood on is just another thug looking for the next liquor store to rob.
I encourage reading all of Sanders’ piece as he relates his personal experience of being released from suspicion of a prank because he is white.
My oldest daughter experienced a similar situation several years ago when her job required that she–a 20-something, small, white girl–drive a couple of larger African-American men to a work location. As they were leaving a parking lot after lunch, and as one of the guys was reaching for his seat belt, a police car fell in behind them with lights activated. My daughter was caught off-guard and asked aloud, “What is this? I didn’t do anything.”
One of her passengers replied, “You are a white girl with two black men in her car.”
Simple as that.
The police officer’s racial profiling is merely confirmation bias in another form.
What the tragedy of the Trayvon Martin death and George Zimmerman trial reveals again is in far too many instances a type of relational confirmation bias. Since we tend to congregate with people who are like us our confusion, suspicions, fears or concerns about people not like us are amplified. Our judgements are more pronounced because, heck, everybody who is worth reading thinks like I do. Only someone who is a moron could think otherwise. And so it goes.
For the child of God is this completely unacceptable. The incarnation–God becoming flesh in the person of Jesus Christ–tells us God’s mind on the subject. That Jesus spoke repeatedly of reaching sheep outside the Jewish fold tells us God’s mind on the subject. That Jesus’ disciples are to make disciples of all peoples tells us God’s mind on the subject.
It is clearly unacceptable for God’s people to accept confirmation bias. It is doubly damnable if we allow cultural ignorance to remain such when, often, all we need to do is knock on a door, say “hello,” make an introduction, calendar a lunch appointment or lend a hand. The gospel is rarely shared from afar.