Al Heggins: Feeding truth nourishes society

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2016

By Al Heggins

Special to the Salisbury Post

Feed a cold and starve a fever. My mother said this to her children when the low down, green nasty, fever-ridden colds latched on. As for me, I’d squirm and pull away from any food or drink she offered. That fever was getting the upper hand and my refusal of nourishment didn’t help. I didn’t believe missing meals strengthened the fever.

So, Mama would change her approach. She’d put homemade chicken noodle soup on the table. And, y’all —her chicken came from the barnyard, the noodles were handmade and the vegetables were from her garden. Now she had my attention. I’d take a couple of sips of the rich broth, nibble on a chicken chunk and slurp-suck a few noodles. It was delicious! But I just didn’t want to eat. I was siding with the fever.

At that point, Mama kicked it up a notch. She knew my health was at risk. In she came with a tablespoon and the dreaded brown bottle. It had a yellow label and a white metal top. You know; the kind easily found at China Grove Drugstore back in the day. Let me break it down for those of you who don’t know — castor oil!

Allow me to flip the script. I want to rearrange and insert new words into the old adage. Try this on: Starve the truth and feed a lie. And by the way, the lie is a really bad fever. Starving the truth and feeding the lie is about propagandizing narratives to plant seeds of damaging Polly Anna ideals.

Here are a few seemingly harmless narratives that have been planted over the years. I bet you can provide the ending for each phrase:

“Children should be seen …”

“A man’s house is …”

“A dog is man’s …”

“A woman’s place is …”

The seeds of these narratives are framed by cultural and social constraints that drive our subconscious in ways that we don’t even realize.

This is called implicit or hidden bias. Implicit/hidden bias (also known as implicit social cognition) is the bias we harbor unknowingly; yet hidden bias feeds our understanding and attitudes as it relates to gender, sex, sexual orientation, the elderly, children, race, religion ethnicity, physical ability and other human characteristics.

What’s particularly tricky about implicit bias is that these unconscious associations may not align with our espoused beliefs and values. We may espouse “I don’t see color.” We embrace “We’re all just one big family.” We lift up “Hire the best person for the job.” But it’s not quite that simple. You see, we have to break the fever. We have to flip the script again by feeding the truth and starving the lie.

Like any worthwhile endeavor, learning how to test our implicit biases takes attention and work. As you move throughout your day, take time to question yourself as you ebb in and out of different human interactions. Start with something very familiar; ask, “Why do I gravitate to a certain group of folks at school, at work, at worship?” Rather than defaulting to the “I’m more comfortable with them,” do an assessment of what makes you uncomfortable with the people you do not gravitate towards. Sit with your assessment. Turn it over. Deeply think about the narrative, the cultural/social lessons, that have planted the seeds of your discomfort.

Next, look at ways to deconstruct and rebuild that narrative based on their telling of the story.

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity states, “We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.”

Favoring our own ingroup ranges from the healthy embracing of our ethnic/cultural/social traditions to the unhealthy application of supremacy. Biases against our own ingroup emerge from internalized oppression developed due to centuries of being devalued and marginalized by systems and propagandized narratives.

Feed the truth and starve the lie. Seconds, anyone?

Al Heggins is owner and founder of the Human Praxis Institute, a Salisbury-based human relations firm specializing in building welcoming communities thru racial/social equity training, mediation & strategic planning.