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Five Common Biases About Race, Gender, and Genetics Even Smart People Have

Jeevan Sivasubramaniam Posted by Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, Managing Director, Editorial, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.

Five Common Biases About Race, Gender, and Genetics Even Smart People Have

In their latest book, Tiffany Jana and Matthew Freeman explore the hidden biases we all carry and how we can become more self-aware about the role they play in our lives.

People are capable of having biases about race or gender that they believe are scientifically sound or based on solid research, even though they are not, or are unfortunately taken out of context. Being aware of these biases and misconceptions is important to recognizing how dominant a role they play in our lives. Here are just five misconceptions and biases we have about race, genetics, and gender preferences.


1. Bias/Misconception: We are all the same--biologically speaking--under the skin. We are no different.

Truth: We are very different under the skin and up to about 15% of human genetic variation is based on racial differences. What the bias confuses is the fact that there is any pure racial definition (i.e.--people having characteristics of just one particular racial type). We are all combinations of types, but we are not all equal combinations of all types, neccessarily. So, yes, there are differences.And also, yes, it is possible to identify which types of genetic contributors we each have.


2. Bias/Misconception: Asians are smarter than their White/Black/Latino counterparts.

Truth: While the statistics do show that people of (both South and East) Asian heritage academically outperform their peers from other backgrounds, research has shown that there is no biological or genetic evidence to suggest Asians having a higher intelligence quotient or intellectual capabilities. So what accounts for this fact? Culture. Asian cultures have emphasized educational excellence above all else as being paramount to not only life success, but as an indicator of individual worth. Culture motivates performance. But like all seemingly "good" things, there's a dark side: due to the pressure to excel, Asians also have higher rates of stress and suicidal ideation (but you wouldn't say that they have a genetic predisposition to suicide, either).


3. Bias/Misconception: Black people are more prone to committing acts of crime and to be victims of crime by other Blacks.

Truth: Often used as a counter to movements such as #BlackLivesMatter, many argue that Black crimes impact other Blacks far more than police brutality, etc. But the truth is that the overwhelming majority of homicides in recent years were carried out by Whites against other Whites. And though you can argue that since Whites are the largest demographic that they will obviously have higher numbers, crime data shows a disproportionaly high number of crimes by Whites. The 2010 crime statistics from the FBI confirm that though (non-Hispanic or Latino) Whites make up 62.6% of the U.S. population, but they lead Blacks by 2-1 in arrests, and lead all other ethnicities by 2-1 in incidents of forcible rape (66.3 percent of rapes were committed by whites, while 31 percent were committed by blacks). White people also lead black people by 2-1 in larceny-theft, which is by far the most common form of crime.


4. Bias/Assumption: A "family" consists of traditional parental roles with a clear female mother figure and a male father figure, and this balance is essential for the stable emotional and social growth of a child. As such, gay couples are not capable of properly raising a child no matter how good their intentions and skills.

Truth: The statement above is routinely used by many who claim that they are not anti-homosexual but believe that a homosexual relationship does not constitute a healthy environment in which to bring up young children. However, countless studies and pieces of research have shown that the children of gay couples are every bit as mentally and psychologically healthy as those of straight couples. 


5. Bias/Assumption: Not all whites, maybe, but at least a substantial number of Whites owned slaves in the U.S. during the 1800s.

Truth: If you look at national statistics, only 1.4% of White Americans owned slaves at the peak of slavery. Confounding that fact is another: (freed) Blacks owned slaves often in larger concentrations than whites in some areas. According to the first census of 1790, 36 out of 102, or 35.2 percent of the free Black heads of family held slaves in Charleston City.  By 1800, one out of every three free Black men reported owning slaves.  


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I don't know if it's political correctness or shoddy statistics but #3 just doesn't add up.You say whites make up 62.6% of the US population but never mention the % of the black population, which I believe is around 11-13 %. So whites should lead blacks by around 5 to 1 in every category. However, you make the point that they lead by 2 to 1 as if that's makes whites look bad. You even say blacks commit 31% of rapes as if that's a low number. Well, if 13% are committing 31% that's not a good ratio. I bring this up because if we can't be honest about a problem how are we expected to solve it? Furthermore, it makes me doubt everything the authors say, since I can't take their word for it. Diappointing.

February 4, 2017