Share Your Unconscious Bias Stories With Us

The Equal Justice Society is working to deepen awareness of unconscious bias through the use of storytelling in television and movies (read more about our related activities). There are a host of interesting stories that can be packaged to Hollywood to both entertain and educate people on the ways that unintentional racism still permeates.

We are looking for real examples of unconscious bias that can serve as the basis for fictional storylines. Here are a few examples:

Imagine: Ten years ago, a black man and a white man who were both in interracial marriages were convicted in the brutal murders of their wives. The white husband was sentenced to life in prison while the black husband was sentenced to death row. A lawsuit ensues.

Something like this happened. McCleskey v. Kemp was decided by the Supreme Court in 1987. Warren McCleskey, a black man, was convicted of armed robbery and murder in the Atlanta area of Georgia. He was given the death penalty. After his conviction, McCleskey appealed the death sentence arguing that the death penalty was administered in a racially discriminatory way, violating the Fourteenth Amendment which, generally, prohibits state sponsored discrimination. McCleskey, with the help of statistical research provided from a law professor, was able to show that the state of Georgia administered the death penalty in a discriminatory manner. Indeed, the professor’s work showed that one found guilty of murdering a white person was 16 times more likely to be sentenced to death than had the victim been black. The Supreme Court held that since there was no discriminatory intent, the Fourteenth Amendment was not violated. On September 28, 1991, Warren McCleskey was executed by state of Georgia’s electric chair.

Imagine: A city has a policy of targeting black barbershops. One day, police raid a black barbershop and the cops shoot an unarmed suspected.

This could be based off a true story. Gordon v. City of Moreno Valley concerns the asserted unconstitutionality of a police raid of black barbershops in the city of Moreno Valley, California in April of 2008. Inspectors and armed police officers wearing bulletproof vests conducted warrantless searches of the barbershops during which officers ran warrant checks of individuals therein. When one owner complained, he was arrested. The plaintiffs, barbershop owners, employees and customers argued that their Fourteenth Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights (which protect individuals from unlawful searches and seizures by the state). The Fourteenth Amendment claim was that the state specifically and unlawfully targeted black barbershops. The district court held that their was discriminatory intent on behalf of the state and that the Fourteenth Amendment was violated. With regards to the Fourth Amendment, the court found that the searches were not routine inspections for which a warrant is not necessary because these were raids and far broader than a inspection done to further regulatory purposes.

These are just two examples. We’re interested in more and hope you can help.

If you have stories from your files, dockets, or recollections and can provide us with details, please contact Brando Simeo Starkey, our EJS Judge Constance Baker Motley Civil Rights Fellow at bstarkey@equaljusticesociety.org.

6 thoughts on “Share Your Unconscious Bias Stories With Us

  1. I have been working on this issue for years and like many others who have tried to address bias in The Biz, advances are severely limited by the failure and absence of legal challenges to discriminatory Industry practices. That said, although admirable, I am not certain to what end this project proposal is unique. I think it would be of great benefit for EJS to consult with people actually working and struggling in the Industry to determine where best to expend resources. I.e., there is not an absence of scripts that already address unconscious bias and situations like those listed. For example, the mission of Participant Media – producer of The Kite Runner, The Visitor, The Soloist – is: “to entertain audiences first, then to invite them to participate in making a difference. To facilitate this, Participant creates specific social action campaigns for each film and documentary designed to give a voice to issues that resonate in the films.” Participant has developed such scripts, and there is a plethora of media already out there as has been for decades. I guess my question is, by adding more to an already rich supply, “Then what?” I presume the goal is to break down the masses’ unconscious biases. If so, I think it is more powerful to create media images of equality than to add more images of discrimination. The choir will enjoy the latter vignettes, but those who need evolution will not be moved. When the greenlighting of projects is regulated by the same employment laws as every other business, then a real dent can be made into perceptions of “other”. Otherwise, people will continue to choose — and have no other choice but — to be entertained by shows/movies whose characters don’t represent the diaspora.

  2. I have been working on this issue for years and like many others who have tried to address bias in The Biz, advances are severely limited by the failure and absence of legal challenges to discriminatory Industry practices. That said, although admirable, I am not certain to what end this project proposal is unique. I think it would be of great benefit for EJS to consult with people actually working and struggling in the Industry to determine where best to expend resources. I.e., there is not an absence of scripts that already address unconscious bias and situations like those listed. For example, the mission of Participant Media – producer of The Kite Runner, The Visitor, The Soloist – is: “to entertain audiences first, then to invite them to participate in making a difference. To facilitate this, Participant creates specific social action campaigns for each film and documentary designed to give a voice to issues that resonate in the films.” Participant has developed such scripts, and there is a plethora of media already out there as has been for decades. I guess my question is, by adding more to an already rich supply, “Then what?” I presume the goal is to break down the masses’ unconscious biases. If so, I think it is more powerful to create media images of equality than to add more images of discrimination. The choir will enjoy the latter vignettes, but those who need evolution will not be moved. When the greenlighting of projects is regulated by the same employment laws as every other business, then a real dent can be made into perceptions of “other”. Otherwise, people will continue to choose — and have no other choice but — to be entertained by shows/movies whose characters don’t represent the diaspora.

  3. The only thing that comes to mind is the extreme media coverage which the case of the Duke lacrosse team received, where similar cases of white strippers (instead of black) being abused by black or white people, received far less attention. That has more to do with how the media treats such events, however.

  4. The only thing that comes to mind is the extreme media coverage which the case of the Duke lacrosse team received, where similar cases of white strippers (instead of black) being abused by black or white people, received far less attention. That has more to do with how the media treats such events, however.

  5. When I met, for the first time, a GAL that was representing an 11 year old Native American Child, it was upsetting that he thought I would agree with his, distorted facial expressions and disdainful tone, when referring to the child’s home and family. I clarified who he was commenting on and he clearly restated his statement in a similar manner. After this behavior was reported to his supervisor he insisted that my observations were untrue. I had photographed the family group’s interaction with this GAL as well which were quite graphic in his apparent negative feelings toward this Native American family. I went on line to find information on un-conscience racism, what would you recommend as an effective step in effectively bringing this behavior to light?

  6. When I met, for the first time, a GAL that was representing an 11 year old Native American Child, it was upsetting that he thought I would agree with his, distorted facial expressions and disdainful tone, when referring to the child’s home and family. I clarified who he was commenting on and he clearly restated his statement in a similar manner. After this behavior was reported to his supervisor he insisted that my observations were untrue. I had photographed the family group’s interaction with this GAL as well which were quite graphic in his apparent negative feelings toward this Native American family. I went on line to find information on un-conscience racism, what would you recommend as an effective step in effectively bringing this behavior to light?

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