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The First Step In Eliminating Implicit Bias? Admit It Exists

Rashon Nelson, left, and Donte Robinson, right, both 23, sit on their attorney's sofa as they pose for a portrait following an interview with the AP on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia. Their arrests at a local Starbucks quickly became a viral video and galvanized people around the country who saw the incident as modern-day racism. In the week since, Nelson and Robinson have met with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson and are pushing for lasting changes to ensure that what happened to them doesn't happen to future patrons. (Jacqueline Larma/AP)

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Rashon Nelson, left, and Donte Robinson, right, both 23, sit on their attorney's sofa as they pose for a portrait following an interview with the AP on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia. Their arrests at a local Starbucks quickly became a viral video and galvanized people around the country who saw the incident as modern-day racism. In the week since, Nelson and Robinson have met with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson and are pushing for lasting changes to ensure that what happened to them doesn't happen to future patrons. (Jacqueline Larma/AP)

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Remember the Starbucks campaign when baristas scrawled #RaceTogether on coffee cups to engage customers in a positive discussion of race? Well, today we need a cup that reads: #ISeeBlkHumanity and a cultural movement to match.

If you are an ally in the fight for racial equality or just consider yourself a fair-minded person, this is your movement. This is the social change you can lead.

Incidents like the April 12 trespassing arrest of two black men at a Philadelphia Starbucks because they didn’t order illuminate the need for a fundamental shift in the perception of blackness. It is the acted-upon-bias toward black people, generally, and black men, specifically, as “other,” "less than," “criminal,” “suspicious” or “threat” that is spiraling our society into repeated unjust scenarios with often-lethal consequences.

Whether you call the phenomenon implicit bias, unconscious bias, reflexive stereotyping or thin-slicing, as Malcolm Gladwell referred to it in his best-selling “Blink,” we will continue to have proverbial Starbucks moments and violence perpetrated against black men, women and children until all members of society challenge themselves to pause and recognize black humanity.

Assaults on black life and freedoms occur in this country with metronomic regularity.

Recently, a 14-year-old boy, deciding to walk to school after missing his bus, got lost in a predominately white Detroit suburb and was shot at by a white homeowner.

The same week Memphis commemorated 50 years since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Dorian Harris, 17, was shot by a store clerk, who caught him stealing a beer. Dorian’s body lay for two days in a nearby yard before being discovered.

And this past Saturday, a Pennsylvania golf club called the cops on a group of black women accused of playing too slowly, refusing to leave after the white co-owner and his father complained.

These incidents, and countless others, expose the dangerous extension of implicit bias and what happens when a person acts reflexively upon notions of blackness-as-threat.

While structural change is necessary, a change in Starbucks customer policy is insufficient to solve for the bias that threatens the dignity of the black human being in the store next door, in your workplace, in your child’s classroom or on any of our streets.

The humanization of blackness has always been at the core of the struggle for racial justice in America. Deadly conditions of black sanitation workers in Memphis gave rise to the “I Am A Man” posters of 1968. The litany of bias-related deaths since Trayvon Martin’s in 2012 gave rise to, and cemented, the Black Lives Matter movement.

Today, anyone who commits to stopping, thinking and challenging themselves to pause and see the humanity of another person can be part of the movement for black humanity.

You might be thinking: Is she calling me a racist? Maybe. We all harbor implicit bias.

Challenge yourself. Take a test from Project Implicit to better understand the way your mind works. Admittedly, this test is better at predicting behavior in the aggregate (which would mean taking the test several times and averaging your score), but it’s a starting point.

As a black, female, mother, lawyer and successful professional, I was personally struck after taking it myself to acknowledge how it confirmed some of my own biases I am loath to admit aloud. I took four tests: Race, Skin-tone, Weight and Gender-Career. I was shocked and frustrated to learn the data suggested I strongly associate "Male" with "Career" and "Female" with "Family," despite my lived experience and what I know deeply to be true — women are titans of the career sphere too. It’s uncomfortable to learn your mind is not as fair as your heart wants to be, but awareness is the first step to change.

The CEO of Starbucks responded appropriately by immediately addressing the Philadelphia incident directly, firing the manager involved, expressing public remorse, committing to policy change, and shutting down its stores on May 29 for racial-bias education.

Whatever race, color or creed, you can take the first step in the #ISeeBlkHumanity movement. First be open to understanding your own constructs of race, so you can be part of the solution. This movement starts with you. You can lead it with your staff, you can speak life into it with your friends, and most important, you can act on it every day by taking three seconds to pause and challenge your own bias.

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Alaina Beverly Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Alaina Beverly is a civil rights attorney, urban advocate and political strategist based in Washington, D.C. She is also a Public Voices fellow.

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