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Up until 8th grade, I think I was a little racist. I was homophobic, too, which is pretty ironic seeing as I would later come out of the closet one year later. Now, my prejudice definitely wasn’t that extreme. It was limited to what I considered then to be “dark humor” but I was not making a conscious effort to understand the world around me. I was blinded by my own implicit biases that refused to let me see that I was wrong. 

Implicit bias is a trait of the human mind that forms negative or positive connotations around a particular group of people. They may feel more supportive of people like them while showing harsh, negative feelings towards people not like them. People don’t have biases intentionally, they are implicit, residing in the subconscious. Biases are usually formed after exposure to media, education, and societal standards that mold our brains into feeling a certain way about certain people. This is usually the cause of issues like systemic racism. When all the people in power have these negative biases, it adds up. It stacks...and it gets worse and worse over time.

Harvard University provides tests, freely available online, that you can take to determine your own level of implicit bias within a certain category like race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality. In January, I took two of these tests. Knowing how I used to act in middle school, I wanted to test how far I had improved since then. I decided to take the race and sexuality test. 

The first test I took, the racial test, yielded the result of “no immediate bias towards white or black people”. This surprised me quite a bit. I expected to have at least some residual bias from my days in middle school, yet I had none. I tried to think about what could have caused this. First, the reason I had been like that in middle school was probably exposure to harmful media. I was watching “Dank Hood Vines” and “Edgy Meme Compilation 2014” on YouTube at the age of 10. It was certainly not very good for my sense of humor. I had adjusted to this, and anyone that challenged my behaviour just “didn’t understand a joke” when in reality, I didn’t understand the world I lived in. In 8th grade, people actually started calling me out on what I was doing, and after someone I was close to called me a bully, it really made me rethink everything. I tried to put in an effort to accept responsibility for my actions. Over the next few years I made new friends and found myself in increasingly diverse friend groups. After the huge spike in Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd, it felt like a call to action for me to pick up a flag and stand for whats right, and hopefully atone for being such a jerk middle-schooler. I think this is when my bias first started to dissipate. 

The second test I took was the sexuality test. I found that I had a moderate preference for gay people over straight people. To be honest, I thought this was a little funny. For 13 years I was in the closet, I even thought I was straight myself. Once I finally accepted myself, I think I accepted others as well. It’s been 4 years since I came out, and since then my bias against gay people became a preference for them.

With all things considered, I still have work to do. I have no bias for or against either white people or black people, but that's something I have to make sure to maintain over time. I can’t relax just yet. It will be hard to try to ease my preference towards gay people, and it will take time to accomplish. For the time being, I just have to be aware of my bias and ensure that it does not affect my decisions or how I treat people. We all have our biases, and as long as we strive to get rid of that tiny voice in our heads, we can work to make the world a more equal place.

© Elijah Gunn. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.