EJS Co-Presents Unconscious Bias Panel at Writers Guild in LA, Introduction by Norman Lear

The Equal Justice Society will co-present in late-September a thought-provoking discussion on unconscious bias offering insights that will challenge and inspire new ideas in developing and producing programming that reflects the true diversity of our rapidly changing society.

EJS joins the Writers Guild of America West, Screen Actors Guild, Americans for American Values and the Kirwan Institute in presenting “Reading Between the Lines: Uncovering Unconscious Bias” on September 30, 2009, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Writers Guild of America, 7000 West Third Street, Los Angeles. A reception will follow the panel, which will be introduced by Norman Lear.

In his autobiography Nelson Mandela tells of getting on a plane in Africa after his release from 28 years of imprisonment. The pilot of the plane was a Black African. This frightened Mandela. When he examined his fears, he realized that he had internalized negative stereotypes of Black incompetence. Many of us have internalized negative stereotypes of women, lesbians and gay men, the disabled, older people, and people of color. These fears operate in our unconscious.

Panelists include:

  • Celinda Lake, Pollster
  • john powell, Professor of Law, The Ohio State University
  • Antonia Hernández, President and Chief Executive Officer, The California Community Foundation
  • Dr. Camille Charles, University of Pennsylvania
  • Jerry Kang, Professor of Law, UCLA
  • Dr. Maninder Kahlon, Cognitive Neuroscientist
  • Jeff Adachi, San Francisco Public Defender and Producer of The Slanted Screen, a documentary on Asian Americans in cinema
  • Eva Paterson, President, Equal Justice Society

With special guests:

  • Kathleen Antonia, attorney and actor
  • Tim Paulson, California Teachers Association
  • Larissa Fasthorse, WGAW American Indian Writers Committee
  • John S. Johnson, Director, Harmony Institute

The panelists will explore how the brain processes information and how the need for quick decision often leads to faulty conclusions. Political ads from the 2008 presidential campaign will be used as examples of how media can “prime” viewers to activate stereotypes and similarly, deactivate the impact of negative unconscious stereotypes. A number of ads showed candidate Obama as a menacing Black man – purposefully done to make voters afraid of him.

EJS has studied the intersection of unconscious bias and social justice since 2003. Our signature project on this issue is the collaboration with the California Teachers Association to assess racial bias in the classroom and school environment and its impact on student achievement.

“Implicit (unconscious) bias and stereotyping are gaining increasing attention as a possible explanation of unequal treatment in a number of settings including education, employment, health care and law,” said Dr. James Outtz, an industrial and organizational psychologist, who leads the research team on behalf of EJS and CTA. Dr. Outtz explained that scientists define unconscious bias as implicit attitudes, actions or judgments that are controlled by automatic evaluation without a person’s awareness. Existing research shows that we all engage in a cognitive process called “categorization” to simplify and streamline how we perceive others (e.g. sex, race, or age). This process can lead to stereotype application that influences our thoughts and behaviors towards members of certain groups.

Notably, there are a number of social power relationships in our society in which the application of stereotypes may be particularly detrimental to members of racial and ethnic minority groups, the teacher-student relationship being one significant example.

Our workshop will provide a background on the unconscious bias theory, drawing from our six years of work on the issue and identifying ways that unconscious bias can be better understood and used by writers.

Contact me at kkamisugi@equaljusticesociety.org if you have questions about this event.

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