‘Unconscious bias’, or the implicit ways in which we perceive certain things as a result of our upbringing or surroundings, is an issue that many of us (perhaps all of us) are complicit in every day. Frequently, we make prejudgements, accept certain stereotypes, and even make certain discriminatory decisions.
While the issue may indeed be present, however, the ways in which governments and institutions respond to it borders on comedy. Rather than seeking to address any structural inequalities in our society, many instead opt to politically correct-ify words, phrases, and objects in short-sighted attempts to remove the social surroundings which contribute to our implicit biases.
Here are 5 weird ways in which people and institutions have sought to fight against unconscious bias (to a fair amount of comic effect).
1. Walk/Don’t Walk Signs
In many parts of the world, pedestrians are instructed when to cross the street by clear ‘WALK/DON’T WALK’ signs. In other parts of the world, however, a small green or white human figure appears on the sign to tell us when to go. To some, this figure seems a little too male in appearance. (It’s unclear why, since no clothing or genitalia generally are visible.)
This allegedly contributes to an unconscious, pro-male bias amongst pedestrians. To fight this, the government of Melbourne, Australia, opted to trial little green women to go alongside the masculine silhouettes of before. One small step across the street, one giant leap for equality?
Probably not, and this strange attempt at signalling virtue set the taxpayer back by a tidy AU$8,400 ($6,224 US) for every 6 traffic lights. Pretty costly, for such a vague and confusing endeavour.
2. University of Adelaide ‘Mansplaining’ Poster
Staying in Australia; the University of Adelaide in South Australia received backlash on social media after an advertisement caused controversy after going viral. Why was the advert so inflammatory? Because it depicted a man speaking to a group of five women.
Of course, the poster was met with widespread mockery and contempt on social media, with one user calling it a “symbol of our times.”
While many may fail to see the issue with a poster showing a diverse group of students, others seem to think it another example of unconscious pro-male bias. For this, the University of Adelaide received mounds of criticism despite not actually being behind the advert. Hey, as long as there’s someone to shout at, right?
3. Right-Hand ‘Person’
A pretty common form of resistance to unconscious bias is the subtle changing of language. Just as the fictitious governments of Orwell’s 1984 created Newspeak as a means of control, so too do modern institutions attempt to impose political correctness through the manipulation of language.
For instance, at Cardiff University in the UK, words and phrases such as ‘right-hand man’, ‘gentleman’s agreement’, ‘Sportsmanship’, and even ‘mankind’ are deterred, with the university favouring gender-neutral terms where possible.
While the University may believe that this is combatting some innate bias, in reality it seems to do little more than patronise students. One would hope that university students would be mature enough not to take offense at words containing ‘man’, yet apparently they must have their words chosen for them.
4. Spotted Richard
The UK isn’t particularly famous for its cuisine. Sure, everyone loves fish and chips. Marmite, jellied eels, and haggis are significantly less popular though. One English dessert that’s achieved some degree of international acclaim, however, is the ever-hilarious Spotted Dick.
Yet, in the spongy treat’s native country, even Members of Parliament find the name too daft to order at the House of Commons cantine, prompting a name-change to ‘Spotted Richard’ to save embarrassment.
As a Richard myself, I count myself lucky that this news didn’t break when I was still in school; children are creative enough with nicknames without being handed Spotted Dick on a silver platter (metaphorically, of course).
5. Anything Justin Trudeau Does
Few have mastered the art of over-the-top political correctness quite as well as Canadian Prime Minister Justin ‘current year’ Trudeau. After all, who could forget his correction of “mankind” to “peoplekind” at a question and answer last February.
Trudeau has come under fire for his seemingly unwavering commitment to political correctness, especially considering his rather questionable activities in the background. For instance, while he may have painted himself as an LGBT ally by apologising for Canada’s ‘gay purge,’ he also signed an arms deal worth $15 billion with Saudi Arabia, one of the less-LGBT-friendly nations of the world (to put it mildly).
Perhaps Trudeau is the most apt figurehead of the bizarre fight against unconscious bias; more than happy to switch words around and make the surface look pretty, but not dealing with any of the actual issues at hand. Isn’t that what political correctness is all about?