Dissecting unconscious bias: Q&A with social scientist Dolly Chugh

The professor offers tools to combat unconscious bias and understand privilege.

Stop viewing yourself as a good person.

That’s the advice from a social scientist who has spent nearly two decades dissecting unconscious bias.

Dolly Chugh, New York University professor and author of new book ‘The Person You Mean to Be: How Good People Fight Bias,’ unpackaged the meaty topic during a candid chat at Deutsch’s Manhattan headquarters with New York CEO Val DiFebo on Wednesday.

Here’s a snapshot of the conversation:

Q: How do we tackle unconscious bias?

A: Let’s stop trying to be good people. It’s really clear that the vast majority of white Americans can associate white people and good things more than black people and good things.

A lot of work is happening outside of our mental awareness that doesn’t match our ‘good person’ definition.

My proposal is we be goodish people instead of good people. When we make mistakes we will own them. I know I’m going to make mistakes, but can I be goodish about them?’


Q: How should we view privilege?

This word ‘privilege’ is so charged. I think of it with the term ‘ordinary privilege.’ Think about the part of your identity you think about the least. I’m straight and I go months without thinking that I’m straight. I don’t have to think about it because I live in a world where everything supports my sexual orientation. It’s ordinary in the world I’m in. It’s not for my gay colleague. What if we thought of ordinary privelve as an opportunity to think differently about others?


Q: Is there any low-hanging fruit to help us combat unconscious bias today?

A: Yes. Find three people in your office whose names you can’t pronounce, and learn them. You don’t have to ask them a million times — Google. YouTube has audio clips.


Q: Has all this talk of unconscious bias changed the world for the better?

A: The conversation has changed. A much higher percentage of people I talk to now are willing to accepted they have unconscious bias. I don’t get into as much sparring as I used to. What I’m seeing more of is tears.


Q: Is unconscious bias evolutionary?

A: Unconscious bias is part of how the mind works, but we shaped the content. The content of unconscious bias comes from the culture around us, the media we consume, the people we grew up around, the communities around us. There is no magical solution to unbiasing ourselves. But shaping your environment and clearing the smog helps.

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