The Implicit Bias Disease

understanding-implicit-bias

Recently, I was on my way to my internship and was walking down the stairs to the subway. I realized that the train was already at the station so I quickened my steps. I made it onto the train just before the door closed. As I made my way to a seat, a burly African-American man pointed to the middle-aged West African woman standing next to me and asked me “Did you come on the same boat as your cousin?” His friends chuckled. I glared at him and refused to voice my anger at his reference to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I wasn’t black. I mean, obviously I was, but I never realized it. I was simply a Yoruba girl. Moving to the United States for my college education opened my eyes to a lot things, including the fact that I’m black. I don’t resent this fact, but having my skin color as an identifier is still new to me. For a long time I did not understand the issues facing the African-American community.

apathy-i-dont-care

My previous apathy stemmed from my inability to relate to certain issues that African Americans have dealt with all their lives. When my African-American friends complain about being told that they “sound white”, I sympathize, but cannot empathize with them. People are always surprised that I even speak English. I was interviewing for a job recently and my interviewer could not mask her surprise about the fluency of my English. At the end of my interview, she politely asked “How is your English so good?” I then launched into my two-minute pitch about Nigeria being colonized by the British, and that English is indeed my first language. With such low expectations, apathy is almost an excusable choice.

Why did that African-American man assume that I came here on a boat? Besides being ignorant and rude, I think he unconsciously associates African immigrants with slavery. This phenomenon, known as implicit bias is the silent cause for injustice. Implicit bias predisposes us to unintentional errors in judgement. Social psychologists have studied implicit bias for a long time and have come up with a series of tests to determine the extent and nature of implicit bias among people. The implicit bias test on race can be found here

pilogo

What now? Implicit bias can be reduced but the first step is acknowledging that it exists within each and everyone of us. Take the test above, and ponder on the results. Allow your test results to improve your thoughts and actions.

That Burger Might Make you Sick

    It is difficult to escape the snares of apathy. Many times, we only care about the things that affect us. Well, this article is about something that affects each and every one of us – Food. Chipotle’s recent E.coli outbreak caused mild hysteria that was abated by offering free burritos. Usually, we think organic food is safer. However, even organic foods have often been recalled for bacterial contamination. Whole Foods has built its brand on healthy organic produce, but it recalled a brand of blue cheese earlier this week for possible bacterial contamination.

    How does food contamination occur? There are many reasons, and you’ll get different answers depending on who you ask. Improper handling of food is the main issue. Simple things like washing your hands and keeping perishable foods at low temperature make a huge difference. Proper food handling should be a responsibility of both producers and consumers. However, there is a larger issue that we’re not addressing or even aware of.

    Factory farming is the bane of our existence. This is a method where food and animals are reared on a large-scale, most times with the aim of maximizing profit. The reality of rearing cattle or chicken in confined areas is that disease outbreaks can occur. In order to prevent this, antibiotics are included in the animal’s diet. With respect to diet, how is that we now feed cows corn instead of grass? While corn makes the cow fatter than grass can, it also alters the acidity of the cow’s stomach. Cows are ruminants and have evolved to consume grass. An increase in the acidity of the cow’s stomach leads to ulcers. It also propagates the growth of bacteria that can withstand acidic conditions and are also resistant to the antibiotics that the cows are fed. Undetected by the farmer and consumer, the meat from these cows somehow make it to our plates. This is exactly how the lethal strain  E. coli  0157:H7 became an issue. I implore you to watch the movie Food Inc. on Netflix for more information.


 

 Knowing this information, many people decide to become vegetarians. However, I love meat. I’ve also tried giving up meat and I only lasted two weeks. What can meat-lovers and concerned citizens do about this issue? Let’s give the Food and Drug Administration the power to shut down companies that repeatedly fail sanitation tests. Let’s remove the monopoly in the food industry and return to subsistence or mid-scale farming. Let’s force food companies to be transparent about their farming and manufacturing processes. Let’s make it easier for people to choose what kind of food they want to eat

Power Play in the Classroom

“You complain a lot”, Naya, my roommate, said to me recently. “Apparently, that’s the only way to get things done around here”, I replied. I’d noticed that our heater needed to be fixed, and had tracked down the maintenance staff to assist me with the necessary repairs. As an Emergency Room volunteer, I’ve observed that patients who speak up and enunciate their problems spend less time waiting for the doctor. The difference between mediocrity and excellence lies in the ability to take action on issues at hand. This concept can also be observed in a classroom.

A few weeks ago, my professor attempted to change the class schedule from meeting twice a week for 90 minutes to once a week for 3 hours. This new schedule was to occupy our free hour period. I objected for many reasons, but mainly because I felt it was an unnecessary inconvenience. This time conflict also affected some other students, so we voiced our opinions. The class now meets twice a week for 90 minutes, as per the initial schedule. That was the first time in long time that my opinion counted. After that situation had been resolved, I began to ponder on where power lies in the classroom. One might quickly jump to the conclusion that the instructor holds the power. This is true to a large extent; professors have authority with respect to tutelage and grading of the class. However, students have a great amount of power in and out of the classroom, but only a few recognize this.

For instance, in my sophomore year I discovered that international students in my department were foregoing internship opportunities. In order to partake in an internship opportunity and earn money, an international student has to file for Curricular Practical Training (CPT). In order to file for CPT, the student must prove that the internship is directly related to his/her major, and to a class that he/she is currently enrolled in. Most internships occur during the summer when there is no scholarship or financial aid available. Students ended up paying $5,000 out-of-pocket to enroll in a 4-credit class in order to get CPT approval. Students who could not afford to pay that amount of money had to forego their internships. My classmates and I petitioned for a 1-credit internship class to reduce the financial burden of enrolling in CPT. It’s been a long journey, but this course will be available in Spring 2017. This story is a testament to the fact that students can indeed influence change.

Another simple way that students give up their power in the classroom is by portraying a lack of accountability. By skipping class, showing up late, or focusing on gadgets during a lecture, you are wasting your money, time and inadvertently, your power.

Being the nerd that I am, I calculated the amount of money that goes to waste when a student skips class. For a full time undergraduate student enrolled in 12-17 credits, tuition costs $16,150 per semester. Let’s assume a student, Peter, is enrolled in 4 courses totalling 15 credits. By missing 3 classes of a 3 credit course, Peter has lost $810. To put this in relatable terms, he’s wasted money that could buy either an iPhone 6 Plus, or 5 Jordan sneakers, or Halal food for 150 days.

What’s my point? Be proactive. We often give up our power by remaining silent and feigning apathy on critical issues. I dare you to speak up, voice your concerns, pursue your education with passion, and take action on any injustice you observe. If you need support, contact your campus Student Government Association, the Community Service Center or your campus dean.

Protect the Child

   shutterstock_110951345-390x285

    This story begins with me scrolling down my Instagram feed innocently the week before Christmas. My friend had shared a picture of a beautiful Christmas tree with the hashtag #Christmas2015. I clicked on the hashtag with hopes of finding similar Christmas decorations, and for a while I did see beautifully decorated lawns and houses. However, a few seconds later my eyes were assaulted by the nastiest image I’ve ever seen. I’ll spare you the gory details, but someone had posted child pornography under the hashtag #Christmas2015. I was furious and I reported the picture. I soon realized that was the end, there was nothing else I could do about it.

    Fast forward about a month later, still on Instagram, I had many mentions and saw that a decently-sized group of people were rallying for mass support to shut down a page that had child porn. Now, given that I still had the first image in my head, I decided not go to the page at all. It was in that moment that I decided to pick up this fight against child porn.

#Christmas2015

 

    About a week ago, my friend recommended that I read the book “Restavec” by Jean-Robert Cadet. The book narrates the odyssey of a young Haitian slave child who later migrates to the USA. I was reminded that child slavery is an active social issue to which we pay little attention. Currently, there are over 5 million children that are enslaved or sex trafficked. To put that in context, the population of Houston is 2.2 million. That means there are 2 times more children in slavery than there are people in Houston, Texas.

humantrafficking6

What exactly are the laws in place for criminals convicted of child exploitation? United States Code, Title 18 – Section 2256 describes child pornography as “any visual depiction of sexual explicit conduct involving a minor (someone under 18 years of age)”. Violation of this law can result in a 15-year prison sentence and registration as a sex offender. However, it has become increasingly difficult to apprehend cyber child pornographers. We need accountability and everyone needs to play a part in the efficient enforcement of these laws. To report an incident involving the possession, distribution, receipt, or production of child pornography, file a report on the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)’s website at www.cybertipline.com, or call 1-800-843-5678. Your report will be forwarded to a law enforcement agency for investigation and action..

happy_child_touching_bubble-1680x1050-2

Do you remember when you were a child and your biggest concern was whether you’ll get ice cream after school or you’ll get a bike for your birthday? Perhaps for you always looked forward to getting a new game or going on summer vacation. Life was really simple when we were kids. It is difficult to fathom the possibility that not everyone enjoys this privilege. Knowledge and dialogue about these issues are the initial steps towards reform.

For more information, look here or there

 

How can I help you?

helping-climb

In recent times, the importance of shunning apathy, and responding to social issues with vigor and passion has been widely recognized. Movements like Black Lives Matter and Stop Telling Women to Smile are evidence of the power of the individual within a larger society. This phenomenon has encouraged young college students, like myself, to ask the formidable question, “How can I help?” One response to that question that is usually not considered is to inspire the next generation of college students. While some students are destined to end up in college, many others aren’t. I am in college today in the US solely because I had people who encouraged me every step of the way. Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I resented school until I entered Mr. Adeoye’s class. His enthusiasm and encouragement contributed significantly to my interest in continuing my education. With the nonprofit organization, Citizen Schools, I was able to do the same for middle school students at the Bronx Writing Academy. It was a very fulfilling experience to say the least.

I encourage college students to get out there and invest in the next generation. If for no other reason than for the fact that education is a protective factor from drug abuse. A 2012 peer-reviewed study in Sri Lanka found a direct correlation between drug abuse and education level. Even closer to home is the statistical analysis done by the Idaho State Police Department that uncovered that illicit drug use is more prevalent among adults without a high school diploma. We cannot deny the connection between drug abuse, lack of education and poverty. I mention poverty because it is increasingly difficult to get a good education in low-income neighborhoods. Recently, the Los Angeles Unified School District was hit with a lawsuit for gross misappropriation of school funds. How can high-need students get the education they deserve if funds that are meant to ensure that they have qualified teachers and adequate resources are redirected somewhere else?

If we therefore ascertain that poverty is a risk factor for low educational level, and education is a protective factor for drug abuse, it is no surprise that poverty-stricken areas have higher drug abuse rates. At a base level it is easy for citizens to think “This has nothing to do with me, I cannot right the wrongs of someone else”. This is however the age-old apathetic way of viewing things. In the famous words of John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

Critics of higher education might argue that a college education doesn’t necessarily ensure a job. However, I believe that a college education gives one a fighting chance in an ever-evolving world. The realization that education is the key to empowerment is crucial and we must all contribute to training the next generation.

Last semester, I ventured out of my comfort zone and enrolled in a Service Project class. At first, it was a placeholder while I searched for another elective that piqued that interest. The longer I stuck with the class, the more I realized that I had a voice, one that deserved to be heard. Even more importantly I found that I was in a unique position to cater to and speak for the voiceless.

One of the service initiatives we delved into as a class was the Senior Legacy Project. In collaboration with the Let’s Talk Safety nonprofit organization, we strove to document the stories of senior citizens in Harlem. Our aim was to decipher the evolution of Harlem as a community through the stories of these seniors.

dr-martin-luther-king-jr-blvd

I interviewed Ed Davis as part of the NYIT’s Harlem Legacy Project and it was refreshing to learn that he devoted 28 years of his life to educating the next generation. Growing up in Harlem without male mentors, Ed made it his aim to not only get an education but also return to his neighborhood to make a difference. He served as a teacher for many years on the very same block that he grew up. During his interview, Ed honed in on the importance of remembering where we’re from and helping others up. Where are you from and who have you helped recently besides yourself?