Christlike Attributes, Implicit Bias, and Loving Your BIPOC Neighbor as Yourself
By Michelle Franzoni Thorley
In the October 2020 General Conference, I was struck by the address from Elder Scott D. Whiting, “Becoming Like Him.” In this talk he spoke about the process of attaining Christ like attributes. He spoke about being brave enough to look inside and see where we might improve. He even spoke about the possibility of being unaware of imperfections we have. This immediately made me think of implicit bias – the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.
Elder Whiting goes on to say “If we are honest with ourselves, the Light of Christ within us whispers that there is distance between where we are in comparison with the desired character of the Savior. Such honesty is vital if we are to progress in becoming like Him. Indeed, honesty is one of His attributes. Now, those of us who are brave might consider asking a trusted family member, spouse, friend, or spiritual leader what attribute of Jesus Christ we are in need of—and we may need to brace ourselves for the response! Sometimes we see ourselves with distorted fun-house mirrors that show us either much more round or much more lean than we really are.”
Most people I know are pretty sure they are not racist, and yet their implicit and unconscious biases say otherwise. If you are not actively educating yourself about how racism functions both physically and socially, you are not qualified to say if you are racist or not. Even BIPOC grapple with internalized racism and colorism. There is very little chance that non-BIPOC individuals, (white people) are free of racial biases.
Racial educator Robin DiAngelo says “As a white person seeking to be accountable, I must continually ask myself, “How do I know how I am doing?”
To answer this question, I need to check in and find out. I can do this in several ways, including: by directly asking Black, Indigenous, and Peoples of Color with whom I have trusting relationships and who have agreed to offer me this feedback; talking to other white people who have an antiracist framework, and reading the work of Black, and Indigenous Peoples. Ultimately it is for Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color to decide if I am actually behaving in antiracist ways.
Usually the first example people give me to prove that they’re “not racist” is “I have a Black/Hispanic/Asian/person of color friend/family member/coworker, so therefore I couldn’t possibly be racist.”
Here is DiAngelo again: “Sociologists actually have a term for it, it’s called the inoculation case. ‘I’ve been near people of color and it’s stripped me of my racism.’ I want you to notice how often white people invoke proximity as evidence…apparently a lot of white people think that a racist cannot tolerate any proximity even the sight of people of color. And so if there’s any friendliness across race there cannot be racism.”
Proximity to people of color does not negate your racism. Sadly, it does not remove your implicit biases. Using proximity as your defense only shows how racially illiterate you are. Education, soul searching and practice are the only ways to uproot feelings of white superiority and racism. There are many people in my life who I love and that love me who hold racist beliefs.
No amount of physical attraction, compassionate service, trips to other countries or friendships can uproot racism. And let me just take a moment to talk about the “friends and family” defense. If you have friends or family that are people of color and they don’t talk to you about race and racism, that is a good indicator that you are not a safe person to talk to about racism and using them as your “I’m not a racist card” is not going to help you. If you’re not sure, try asking them, “Would you feel comfortable talking about race issues with me? Is there anything you’d recommend about what I could do better?”
DiAngelo also says “Building relationships across race will require most white people to get out of their comfort zones and put themselves in new and unfamiliar environments. This is different from our usual approach in which we invite Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color into committees, boards, and places of worship – groups white people already control. We often do this when we have done no work to expand our own consciousness and developed no skill or strategy in navigating race. In effect we are inviting Black, Indigenous and Peoples of Color into hostile water, then we are dismayed and confused when they choose to leave.”
In Psalm 139: 23-24 it says “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Even more important than asking the BIPOC in your life to exonerate you from being racist, I believe we all should go to God and ask what He thinks. And when He tells you there is work to do in loving your neighbor better, find resources such as books or podcasts that can help you become more racially literate. Do the work.
I know that uprooting racism and implicit biases from our hearts is a big part of the second greatest commandment to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” We cannot love someone else with equal measure if there is even a drop of belief, unconscious or learned, that we are in some way superior. Doing the personal work of anti-racism is one of the most Christlike things we can do.
Elder Whiting urges us on in this process: “As we progress, we become more complete, finished, and fully developed. Such teaching is not based on any one sect’s doctrines but comes directly from the Master Himself. It is through this lens that lives should be lived, communications considered, and relationships fostered. Truly, there is no other way to heal the wounds of broken relationships or of a fractured society than for each of us to more fully emulate the Prince of Peace.”
Michelle Franzoni Thorley is a Mexican-American visual artist. Her work synthesizes passion for family history work and reclamation of diverse racial heritage for the Indigenous American diaspora. Inspired by the stories of her own mixed ancestry, Michelle shares her artistic journey of self discovery and the veil that separates life from death through symbolic use of color, plants, portraits and scenes of the inter-generational healing that takes place by embracing all the good ancestors. You can follow her extraordinary work about family history, anti-racist education, generational trauma, and art at @flora_familiar on Instagram. Prints of her art pieces are available on her website florafamiliar.com