Implicit bias

People can be prejudiced even when they have a strong ethical belief in equality. I see signs of this in myself. Trans people know of internalised transphobia- though we have transitioned we still can behave in a prejudiced way towards other trans people, or even affirm others’ prejudice against us.

Some people are biased and know it but are unwilling to state it. I know when someone is being transphobic, if their transphobia is greater than mine, and I don’t care whether they are aware of it, but if I believe they intend to behave ethically- they are Quakers, for example- the existence of implicit bias shows that they can still behave transphobically.

I believe in my own implicit bias. Because I intend to act ethically, I will be unconscious of it. I can become conscious of my unconscious motivations. They could come from the wider culture. For example if I watch a lot of dramas in which Black people from poor areas trade drugs- The Wire, Snowfall, Top Boy– and the news sources I read report prosecutions of Black drug dealers (not stating the race of the accused unless it is relevant, but showing pictures of them) I can be appalled when racist Trump says “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime” but might still make racist assumptions about drug dealing.

They could come from liking familiarity. There were no Black children in my year at school. There were three in the school when I was there. I have less excuse for “being unfamiliar” having lived in cities and moved around the country, but am still affected by the associations of others. It can be hard to be the only Black person in a social group. There needs to be deliberate effort to mix people. Trans people are probably the only trans person in any group except LGBT+ groups.

My liking for familiarity shows in my desire for code-switching. I am most comfortable amongst Quakers when the code fits “Educated professional”. I was surprised when my Friend started with her Durham accent, I had heard no sign of it before. We don’t use our regional accents outside our region, often. Now, hiding signs of working class roots should not be necessary for Quakers. We are a group united by our spiritual work. And still working class people often hide it. I seek to hide or dissimulate my class status myself, bringing out aspects which show a higher class, embarrassed by other aspects.

In my experience, quick responses are more likely to produce a prejudiced action than considered responses. Slow thinking uses time and effort. Especially when I know implicit biases exist, consciously analysing what decision to make produces less biased outcomes.

If the biases are unconscious, are we morally culpable? Yes. They harm people in out groups. “Do no harm” is a good moral principle. If someone finds their anger hard to control, criminal law still deals with them when they hit someone. “He made me angry” is mitigation but not defence to assault. So what harms society takes care to avoid is a political decision.

Some biases are structural. A lot of factors work towards Black people being more likely to suffer penalties for drug possession and supply than white people, but some of them are in the minds of individuals. We can work against both factors.

I might attempt to control my bias, or change it. To control:

  • inter-group contact, where we see each other as equals.
  • approach training: notice when you hear stereotypes, and deliberately deny them.
  • evaluative conditioning: a trainer could show a Black face and counter-stereotypical words, such as “genius”.
  • counter-stereotype exposure. I could pay attention to people who break stereotypes. I never really thought “role models” mattered, but seeing someone fulfil a role helps break the idea that no-one like that could do that. The Radio 4 interview series The Life Scientific has a strict gender balance, 50% women interviewees. I could consider particular people, or imaginary counter-stereotypes.

To change it:

  • implementation intentions. Before marking scripts or considering CVs, the assessor reminds themself of racial bias in such things, and forms the intention not to show such bias.
  • Techniques for noticing prejudiced responses after they happen. I feel bad about it when I see I have done it, and that makes me want not to do it again.

These are things to practise, but everyone should know that working towards equality requires more than good intentions.

Much of this comes from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This study proposes five strategies, including

  • Stereotype replacement: recognise a response is based on stereotypes, label it as stereotypical, reflect on why it occurred, consider how to avoid it in the future and replace it with an unbiased response.
  • Individuation: getting to know a wide range of people within the group, so that I no longer apply stereotypes.
  • Perspective taking: taking the perspective in the first person of a member of a stereotyped group– It sounds like empathy.

The study showed people who wanted to could use these strategies to reduce their bias.

“We’re not transphobic!”

We’re not transphobic! Perish the thought, say the transphobes. Are they lying? Well, they believe what they say, even if it is not true. Here are two ways they might be fooling themselves, because few people want to see themselves as prejudiced, particularly not progressives.

First, the Bad Apple Theory. Our systems are perfect! When something goes wrong, it is because someone has fouled up, someone is bad, not because of our systems. A woman was paralysed because someone put chlorhexidine in her drip by mistake, rather than saline. One way to stop such a mistake happening again is to make chlorhexidine look unlike saline, by dying it or making it more viscous. Another is to issue new safety guidance: don’t put chlorhexidine in a drip when you mean to put saline! I have no idea how likely that mistake is, or why someone might imagine chlorhexidine was saline, even if it looked like it- why the containers would be similar, for example. Chlorhexidine is an antiseptic used to disinfect skin before surgery. However, one person at least has made the mistake, and there is now a petition to make chlorhexidine look different. Managers might say the worker could not possibly have been tired because overworked; but the question should be how to stop foul-ups happening, not how to blame someone else.

People already know chlorhexidine is not saline, and is for external use only. Giving another instruction blames the person who made the mistake, so everyone else and particularly the managers can sigh with relief. We’re not bad, and neither are our systems. There’s no need for a system which would prevent the mistake, you just get rid of the bad person. We’re not transphobic! We dislike the trans woman because she (note we use the correct pronouns, we checked and everything because we’re not transphobic) is a

bad person.

I have noticed that being trans is rarely the whole root of any of my problems, and it always makes everything that bit more difficult.

The opposite of this problem is ever proliferating systems and practices making everything more complex: the unnecessary rule because someone did something really stupid once. There are different ways of seeing all these issues.

The second is Location of Disturbance, a concept in group analysis, which is a psychoanalytic psychotherapy framework for analysing groups rather than individuals. If an individual has a problem it may be a manifestation of something in the group. The black sheep of the family might be the only sane person. I don’t understand location of disturbance or group analysis, of course, there are professionals working on these things and lots of research and all I have done is read a blog post. However there are people with their faces glowing with cherubic innocence, who say “We’re not transphobic” and don’t even put a “but” in afterwards, and I am trying to create a little doubt here, even if only for my own self-respect, it wasn’t my fault, even if the doubt only partly convinces me and convinces no-one else at all.

The example is of a Black person in a group of progressive whites, who notices conscious communication of their acceptance and unconscious microagressions. When she complains, she is ignored and marginalised. I believe in such situations. I am not sure of blogger Guilaine Kinouani’s explanation, quoted from B. Stobo, that the space between the white group and the Black individual contains a trauma the whites cannot name, our shared histories of imperialism, colonialism and racism and our inability to acknowledge ourselves as racist. I would not explain it as trauma because I am not a psychoanalyst, but I can see that treating someone differently and being unable to acknowledge myself as racist would create discomfort which I might project onto that person.

And all people have had problems with gendered expectations, which have stressed everyone. How much easier to project all that discomfort onto the trans person, bind her as a scapegoat, and drive her out.

My facetiousness in this post is a defence mechanism. If I call people transphobic they will be angry. Oh, I say, I don’t really mean it, look, I’m joking. I wear my peculiar gender for everyone to see, and if they make assumptions based on it I contradict them with outlying behaviour. Of course they are uncomfortable about gender, and of course they come to associate that discomfort with me. Notice I’ve started a new defence mechanism, protesting too much, pleading that these people are entirely understandable, I’m not blaming you, no! Not a bit!

It took me a long time and some particular experiences to see I might be racist. I am glad to have read of microaggressions, some reading makes the invisible more visible. I’m not going to ask anyone to draw parallels between racism and transphobia. That would be far too frightening.

Comment thread debate

Remainers are responsible for no-deal Brexit.

That argument surprised me. Could anyone believe that? It is put thus: Mrs May made a reasonable compromise deal on Leaving, but the Remainers in the House of Commons blocked it. They could have had a deal, but they sabotaged it, and no deal is the result.

Well. I disagree. I replied that Mogg’s European Research Group had sabotaged May’s hard-right, hard Leave deal, because their demands got continually more extreme. I wrote “Mogg’s little coterie” and that was his way in:

The key word in that quote is “little”. If you only read the Graun perspective on this you’d easily believe that the ERG consists of over 150 MPs. Must you be reminded that Labour who are much larger than the ERG rejected the deal just to score points and get rid of May.

It’s 55 subscribers to the ERG right now, plus one who resigned in April. More than enough to overcome May’s fragile majority.

There are always others to blame. I don’t know whether that commenter believes it, wants to put an alternative view for the joy of debate, or is a mere troll, but blaming and hating others seems the greatest harm of comment threads, even in the Guardian.

I wrote,

Nothing should be produced that is not recyclable, biodegradable or intended to be useful for a hundred years. As for experiences, what matters is relationships, which can be built in a walk in a local park, not needing a trip to another country. Wonder at the art of Egypt on the telly, not by going there. With Michael Leunig savour the “Joy of missing out”.

I was putting a position for the sake of argument. It is arguably an extreme one, hard to reach from where we are without great disruption, and without major corrections to inequality. But the criticism was poor:

-Out of curiosity: Do you have no idea what amount of pollution a steam- or internal combustion engine built 100 years ago cause? Or do you just not care? I replied that metal is recyclable. Someone said recyclable is too low a bar, we should reduce, or reuse, first.

Possibly there should be no motor vehicles other than public transport. It is not a fully reasoned argument, only a comment, which usually involves no original thought whatsoever.

I am pleased to get “Guardian Picks”, though. They get me attention, and often up votes.

Do people believe such Brexit arguments? I was not out demonstrating about the Parliamentary shutdown, though I thought of going- I needed to rest and do more self-accepting. Do we need anger and action, or more thought? Will Leavers and Remainers ever get over our Great Difference and enjoy each others’ gifts again?

Possibly I need righteous anger against Spaffer Johnson’s manoeuvrings, but only if I could do something about them, which is more than moping or commenting. I shared my friend’s story of the effects of pervasive racism and privilege, to increase awareness:

Three friends, young men, two Black and one white. They are out together having a great time when they see a white woman fall over in front of them. They want to help but the Black men hold back and the white man goes up to help, because the Black men fear the white woman will feel they are threatening and object, even be frightened and call out.

I know the Black men are wise to fear that and hold back, and a Black friend who told me of the incident knows it too; but how sad, that they should want to help a woman in need and feel unable to?

So I have shared it again. We need to be aware of these things.

And I liked the Brene Brown quote: “When someone spews something really hurtful don’t pick it up and hold it and rub it into your heart and snuggle with it and carry it around for a long time. Don’t even put energy into kicking it to the kerb. You’ve got to see it and step over it or go around it and keep on going.”

Wise advice. That’s not always my automatic reaction, but her naming the alternatives might help me see their stupidity. It helps to remember why I might “snuggle with” it- because it refreshes and tops up my introjects, which seem like reality and morality to me. See what is hurtful and damaging.

We ended the Queer Spirit festival with hundreds of us in a chain holding hands, singing

Dear friends, Queer friends
Let me tell you how I feel
You have given me such pleasure
I love you so.

Singing in the sunshine with smiles and human contact. Remember that. Hold on to it. Or dozens in a circle drumming and dozens more in the circle dancing, some of us naked. That joy. That connection. That sanity.

George Cruikshank

At the end of British Black History month, I present this cartoon by George Cruikshank.

Here is a larger version on the British Museum website, which claims copyright.

The cartoon, from July 1826, calls the slavery abolition campaigners “canting humbugs”. In Cruikshank’s view, the Caribbean “planters” host happy, well-fed, fat black people, who are portrayed making music, dancing and drinking rum. The Abolitionists are deceiving decent British people to take an interest in slavery when there are poor whites in Britain, needing charity but ignored.

Oh, George! Cruikshank’s cartoons are still worth looking at, and I note his sympathy with starving people- a genuine concern- but the lies about slavery shame me now. Britain made a vast amount of money from slavery and colonial exploitation. Loving the Tate Galleries, I have just checked they are not directly contaminated by slave profits, which is a relief; but all over Britain the legacies of slave ownership remain. I am not free when anyone is unfree, even when their shackles are very different from my own. It is imperative for me to be an ally, and develop as an ally. I found the cartoon through David Olusoga’s documentary Britain’s forgotten slave owners.

Why I’m talking to white people about race

Because I am a trans woman.

Because when I was about to transition, I was representing at about a hundred tribunals a year, and decided the tribunal members should be told, so that my change did not distract them from my client’s case. After one hearing I went back in to tell the tribunal I would transition, and ask how to notify other panel members. When I explained, the doctor on the panel said that tribunals do not discriminate on any ground, and I saw the shutters close behind his eyes as he said it.

You can see their eyes shut down and harden, wrote Reni Eddo-Lodge, in Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race. It’s precisely the same experience. Because there are quotes from people on the back endorsing the book, and all of them are people of colour, apart from Paris Lees, a white trans woman- who is also the only person allowed to be herself, a recognisable name, “Paris Lees” not “Marlon James, winner of the Man Booker Prize 2015”. In that list of endorsements, the men come first, then the women.

Because all that stuff about telling people before we transition is problematic. Human Resources might get an expert in, to give training to the staff members- “Stephen is going to transition. From 25 April, she will be known as Clare”- as if this was something weird or unusual which no-one had ever heard of before, or the correct pronoun to use was in some way difficult or complicated. To give people a chance to ask the intrusive, insulting questions, so that they would not have an excuse to for months afterwards- “Are you going to have the operation?” If you want to find out about trans, there’s this thing called the internet. There are even books!

Because we know this stuff, and yet we still face it. “People talk to my husband over my head,” said the woman in the wheelchair. Oh, God. “‘Does he take sugar?'”- disabled people have been complaining about this, framing it, mocking it, pointing it out, with simple phrases to lodge in people’s heads, for decades, and it still happens. Or my friend suffers this:

-Where are you from?
-Wolverhampton.
-No, where are you really from?

Wolverhampton. Really. We have been getting closer to mere courtesy for some time. We said Asian people, then Asian origin, now Asian heritage– because they were born here, as were their parents in many cases, so they are not Asian nor do they originate in Asia. We do need to label these matters still, because people of colour can’t be colour-blind, they notice that they stand out, that white is the default normal- just as trans women stand out. She still gets “Where are you really from?”

For so long, the bar of racism has been set by the easily condemnable activity of white extremists and white nationalism, writes Eddo-Lodge, and I feel yet again the recognition I feel, over and over again, reading her book.

There have been black people in Britain for millennia- the first colonists, walking over Doggerland, were black, there were Roman soldiers from Africa, black sailors in our ports-

slaves

and lots of black immigration in the 1950s, because the mill-owners of Lancashire, rather than investing in new plant and equipment, wanted to keep costs down by employing immigrants. There were century-old looms working in mills closing in the ’90s. So the hard work for diversity and acceptance of all people came from people of colour first, and GSD (Gender and Sexuality Diversity, I still feel the need to explain that abbreviation and wish I did not have to, straight publications even spell out LGBT) rode on their coat-tails.

Because everybody benefits from acceptance of diversity.

Because I see people being wronged, and their fight is my fight. The book is excellent. It gives history. Muriel Fletcher, reporting on “The Colour Problem in Liverpool” in 1930, said white women who married black men fell into four categories: “the mentally weak, the prostitutes, the young and reckless, and those forced into marriage because of illegitimate children”. That’s vile. Her use of the word “half-caste” has contributed to its use today.

Quaker whiteness

In Britain, most Quakers are white. A far smaller proportion of us is BAME, Black, Asian and minority ethnic, than the population. What can we do to change that?

In my last Anglican parish, the vicar worked hard to include Afro-Caribbean people. The church warden was Afro-Caribbean, as were half the choir, and people came to my church from all over the borough. The BNP was rampant there at the time, and the vicar may have saved one member from involvement with them. And still, at church socials, usually black and white people sat at different tables. Coffee after the Eucharist was mostly white.

For me, Yearly meeting is like a colossal party. I shed my radiance on many people there, and on leaving was stopped for two hugs of beautiful warmth and togetherness. I am grateful. There are many people there whom I have worshipped with over the years, and made connection, but also I can go up to someone I do not know and start a deep conversation, thoughtful, playful, sharing, truthful. Heart meets heart. A thousand people in Friends House might suit the more extrovert of us, and I see some reserved folk whom I know only by reputation, powerful intellects, equally deeply feeling but not showing that as profligately as I do.

I stayed with a local Friend who volunteered to put up Friends from elsewhere. On Sunday night I went to worship at eight, and heard the buzz of conversation down below ebb away. I felt it enriched our silence. I went back on the Tube, and on the platform was recognised by a Friend. Three of us talked in the car, and I enthused about Yearly Meeting Gathering last year. It was like a party, I said. And the man of Asian heritage asked, “Why is this different?”

A day after that conversation I was doubting my interpretation of his question, and two days after my doubts increase, but I remember my certainty of the meaning that evening. It would be impertinent for me to speak for him, and this was my impression: that while YM in London may be more intense than YMG, more focussed on the meeting for worship for business, for him there was not that ease of moving into groups, hearing and being heard, togetherness, a relaxation and removal of masks more profound than alcohol could ever achieve- and part of that was white racism. White people there were not interacting with him in quite the same way as with other white people. We are great apes, with fifty million years of primate evolution behind us, and dividing up others into in group and out group is hard to shed completely.

I love to be with people who are like me.
Who is like me?
How can I expand my understanding of “who is like me”?

There are a lot of us queers in BYM, possibly more than in the general population, and much of the reason is the welcome we get. Quakers are alive to HoBiT- homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (maybe less so to biphobia) and have worked against it. Our support for equal marriage is a powerful witness. I am Quaker because I am trans- I might have found the Society if I had not wanted to transition, but as it was I was a stranger and you took me in. One answer might be to find some equivalent principled work that we could do to serve BAME people, though it is hard to see an example. And supporting equal marriage does not just benefit us queers, but the whole Society: we are all enriched when more voices are heard.

I am aware of the working class origins of many Quakers, but generally because people have told me their histories. About three quarters of us have at least one degree, and many regional accents are moderated or even expunged. We are more homogenous than we should be. There is that of God in every one, and you do not need a degree to hear it in yourself, or feel that spiritual connection with All that we so value. There are people inspired by the Spirit who would enrich us, if they could find us and we could welcome them.

I am an aspiring ally to disadvantaged groups, because I am trans and it behoves me to see other oppressions beyond my own. Yet I am not speaking as an ally here. An ally would say, what barriers are we white people erecting to make it harder for us to connect to others? Speaking as a white person, wanting the good of white people, I ask, how can we hear other voices, expanding our understanding of truth, and enriching our knowledge of God?

The Labour Party

Personal remarks in the loos: “Your thighs are so slim! I wish I could wear boots like that!” She put forward a slightly chubby leg, and said she had to wear extra-wide boots to get round her calves. Mmm. I thought, too late, of ripostes: “I love your bewbies! Mine took ages to grow this big. Do you think I should have implants?” Or, more self-deprecatingly, “Well, I have a man’s skeleton. It does not please me, particularly.” Then again, she might simply have been complimenting me. She did not actually say “I love your tranny legs”.

I was a little nervous at the start of the Labour Party regional women’s conference. I am entitled to be there as my GRC says I am legally a woman, and some cis women object to me in women’s space. Just before getting up, I had read on facebook of anti-trans activists, campaigning to have trans women excluded from all women shortlists with a crowdfunder raising £20,000, being suspended from the Labour Party.

I drove there with D, whom I am getting to know reasonably well, and like, and M, who recently joined having left the Tory Party and was eager to tell of the work she had done for Marsby as a district councillor. She wanted to do good for the town, and the Labour party were far more in tune with that, but she might be nervous having been Tory until last year. D and I were friendly and accepting.

Then Beth, the recently appointed candidate, told me that she had heard from someone “on the other side of your issue”. She did not want to name it. We had been corresponding through facebook, with most of the words from me, explaining trans to her, and mostly positive comments from her, embarrassed about asking basic questions like what does the C in GRC stand for. I am in this hall filled with activist women, worried that some might be TERF.

Then I sat near a woman who had a shirt saying “A woman’s place is in the House of Commons“. I felt more nervous. It is a common phrase, and need not be related to the “A Woman’s Place” campaign against gender recognition, but that is what I thought of.

Yet the place we are in is a good place. The conference rooms are at the back of a building owned by a church, with a coffee shop and food bank. On the wall, there is this:

I love it, and others comment on it. I can’t find an exact source, but it is close to Isaiah 58.

At the back of the stage there is a beautiful quilt.

I go to have a closer look, then see what it is and recoil in shock: it has 598 panels, one for each woman murdered by a partner or former partner in the UK between 2009 and 2015. Oh! It is still very beautiful; and it brings to mind a horror. Later, the woman who conceived it, a Labour councillor, speaks of it. It is the Women’s Quilt. A man taught himself to sew so he could make panels for it, and called it “the most beautiful project that should not exist”. A woman said she had never felt sisterhood until she got involved. We need a memorial for these women. I am glad to see it.

I am happier speaking to Neelam from Unite the Union’s LGBT section. This is more than small talk. I remain nervous; however when the actual talks start I am reassured. Karen Lee, MP, a former nurse, talks of women’s representation. She is proud that she is building on the work done by Harriet Harman to make the House of Commons a more woman-friendly place. A bar has been converted into a crèche. She is proud that 46 target seats have all-women shortlists, and that includes trans women. Neelam, in the hustings for women’s representatives on the regional committee, one of whom must be from the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) community, talked of women “including trans women who are facing an incredibly difficult time”. So I voted for her, obvs.

Lilian Greenwood MP gave the closing remarks. She was delighted by “Cheryl, Nadia and Heather”, three wonderful women for a local all-women shortlist. That is Dr Heather Peto, a trans woman. Lilian says “Trans women are women” and she is delighted that the NEC has just affirmed that is Labour policy. “Abuse does not belong in our party.” That brought forth cheers and applause, and I felt accepted in that moment; and also felt the weight of my nervousness and experiences of rejection. When I realise I am not only rejected I become aware how painful the rejection, and the fear of it, is.

Women need promoted within the Labour Party. There is still rampant sexism. Someone quotes “What you said is inappropriate and I will not tolerate it” because women are socialised to not make a fuss and take care of others’ feelings and you might need a set phrase prepared in order to mount a challenge. A black woman spoke of the abuse she had suffered when canvassing for support as a local council candidate: “Get that filthy N——- off my doorstep”. That is my problem. As a white person I must stand with those suffering pervasive racism. 86% of welfare cuts have fallen on women, and the charity Refuge has suffered 80% cuts. 155 women a day are turned away from refuges.

In a session on Increasing Women’s Representation a speaker, with The Times placed on the table in front of her, says that she had campaigned in the 1970s not for equality but women’s liberation, from patriarchy and capitalism. Rich white men made the world to suit themselves. A feminised politics would have a wider perspective and be more inclusive. She asked contributions from the floor on why increasing women’s representation is a good thing- mine was that there is talent not being used, but an older woman said we must be careful not to discriminate against the men, as if that was even close to becoming a problem. The chair of a local branch had resigned from the party, and joined the Tories, because they were required to nominate a man and a woman, rather than two men, for a shortlist for Parliamentary candidate selection. There is a working class narrative about men, with women as an afterthought.

Here are feminists, conscious of the oppression of women, and angry about it. In the heat of the battle they face, I am justified being nervous about what they may think of trans women. The fight can get nasty. And, I am accepted. At the end, I am part of a photo of smiling happy activists in front of that quilt. (Someone texted it to me, and I can’t download it from my phone.)

That crowdfunder, seeking to challenge trans women on Labour women only shortlists: they shot themselves in the foot. They are suspended from the party, and what did they expect? Their transphobia was tolerated, but not their action against the party. Perhaps as a result, there was this interview of the leader:

Andrew Marr: Is a trans woman a woman?
Jeremy Corbyn: Yes
Marr: So she can self-identify?
Corbyn: Yes.

Women might complain in private, but not in my hearing. I am welcome in Labour.