Our View: Bias talks will break down local barriers

More often than not, it’s difficult to turn the microscope inward and investigate our own biases. While difficult, those hard looks at our own flaws typically lead to growth and understanding that transcends ourselves.

A partnership of local organizations is asking the community to take that difficult, but necessary look at how we can grow as individuals and how that growth and understanding of our own biases can improve the community as a whole.

In 2017, the Waving the Community’s Flag report for The Greater Clark Foundation revealed a significant divide caused by race, class and culture in our community. The report was developed from discussions with dozens of local people about the strengths and weaknesses of Winchester and Clark County.

Included in the report are quotes from some of those who participated in the study about how racial divides impact our community.

One white leader in the community said, “There is still a gross ignorance about what are other’s cultures. It’s almost comical how much we don’t know each other.”

Another noted, “Some just want to build a wall and say, ‘Well, if you could just get rid of that group, this community would be OK.’ Well, we need to take a look at that group, embrace their challenges, look at their strengths, and see how we help raise that group up.”

Another person in the report said, “We have an issue with race. So I think if we truly want to know the impact of racism in our society, we have to talk to the African-American members of our community and get their perspective.”

An African-American community member put it this way, “…we just sweep it under the rug. The community is segregated by race. Now, we don’t have riots and shootings every single night; no, that is not what I am saying. But there is still a great divide here.”

Another person said, “The town struggles with diversity. It hasn’t embraced diversity and recognized it or addressed it properly.”

One person said, “You still have that separation, but it’s not from a lack of trying.”

That’s all this partnership — which includes The Greater Clark Foundation, Clark Regional Medical Center, the Clark County Health Department and Better Together Winchester — is asking us to do: continue trying.

By doing that, we can help our neighbors feel a sense of belonging and improve the diversity of our leadership, volunteer base, community involvement and more.

By taking a look at our implicit biases, we can understand how our attitudes toward others — intentional or not — can affect how we interact with one another and, thus, how we interact with our community.

Low interracial trust and racial divides persist in our community and our nation — perhaps as much now as ever in recent history — and having these tough conversations and learning more about ourselves can allow us to begin chipping away at those issues and proverbial walls we’ve built.

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that unconsciously affect our understanding, actions, attitudes, behaviors and decisions.

The upcoming training sessions are 8 to 11:30 a.m., 1 to 4:30 p.m. or 5:30 to 9 p.m. Friday and again 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Clark Regional Medical Center in the Meyer conference room.

Each two- to three-hour interactive session includes a presentation and group discussion. Sessions are open to the entire community, and many attendees will be able to gain about three and a half hours of continuing education credits for free.

Pastor Edward Palmer, who specializes in diversity training, will teach the sessions.

Palmer’s implicit bias course will help participants recognize underlying biases of which they may not have been aware.

“ … the implicit bias conversation is not a conversation about race, racism or about individuals being racist or hateful or bigotry. It’s a conversation about the implicit associations that have developed over our lifetime,” Palmer told Charles Rotramel and Gregg Taylor with the reClaimed podcast.

The training also helps participants understand how those biases impact their communities and develop skills to reduce the influence of bias in daily life.

While many people feel uncomfortable about discussions of these types, there should be no fear of gaining a deeper understanding of ourselves. Rather than fear, these sessions should incite hope.

Having these tough conversations, and having them together, will allow us to move forward together as a community.