Here’s How To Discuss Unconscious Bias With Your Partner & Their Family

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The killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, has sparked difficult discussions about race, white supremacy, and police brutality in the United States. Given the injustices at hand, you may find yourself having several tough conversations with the people in your life, including your partner and perhaps their family members. Discussing unconscious bias with your partner and their family is a productive way to start unpacking race, white privilege, and the hardships so many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) deal with every day.

You might be hesitant to start this conversation because you recognize it will be uncomfortable. Talking to anyone about unconscious racial bias can feel nerve-wracking, especially when you're a POC dating a white person, or a Black person dating a non-Black POC. But these discussions are crucial, no matter how awkward you might feel broaching the subject.

You and your partner have probably discussed your views to ensure you're on the same page. But those views (and those of their family) can have nuances that are just now bubbling up as police brutality and racial bias discussions pick up in light of the George Floyd protests. Here are some concrete ways to break down, recognize, and remedy identity-based biases.

What Is Unconscious Bias?

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Dr. Candice Nicole Hargons, director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma, defines unconscious bias as the way our socialization makes us see people of a different race, class, gender, or any other identity, sometimes without realizing it. "It influences who we immediately see as trustworthy or criminal, dangerous or innocent, smart or ignorant," Hargons tells Elite Daily. "If you were socialized in a place like the U.S., unconscious bias will often be negative toward people with marginalized identities and positive toward people with privileged identities."

What Are Some Ways People Show Unconscious Bias?

As you're thinking about the ways people show unconscious bias, you'll likely find examples in the form of micro-aggressions toward marginalized communities. Examples include a white or non-Black person being surprised when a Black person uses words they consider "advanced," or a white person telling a Black manager they want to "speak to the manager" because they automatically assume the manager is white.

Other instances include believing and passing along stereotypes like "African-Americans are good at basketball," "Asians are great at math," and "Black people are lazy," Crystal Joseph, a licensed professional counselor, tells Elite Daily.

How Do You Check Your Own Bias?

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If you're a non-Black POC, and you want to confront your partner and their family about the ways you've seen them show unconscious bias, consider checking your own bias against Black people first. (Although, it's worth noting that any time is a good time to check your bias, not solely when the country is in crisis.) In fact, examining your own bias and checking your privilege should be ongoing activities to commit to and engage in throughout your lifetime, not just once in a while. Hargons suggests asking yourself hard questions like, "How did I come to believe this negative thing about this person or group of people?"

Both experts note the importance of checking your prejudices and making sure you're not leaning into confirmation bias. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines confirmation bias as "the tendency to gather evidence that confirms pre-existing expectations, typically by emphasizing or pursuing supporting evidence while dismissing or failing to seek contradictory evidence." This can look like holding onto racist beliefs and justifying them by saying, "This is just the way things are," Joseph explains.

Hargons says confirmation bias typically occurs whenever the phrase "but what about" comes out of anyone's mouth. "'But what about Black-on-Black crime?' is a way to confirm bias," she says. People often use this phrase to confirm prejudiced beliefs about Black people being inherently violent, and take the heat off white people who commit racist hate crimes. This type of racial bias also rears its head when people look into a Black police brutality victim's criminal history to justify their murder.

Because confirmation bias involves dismissing contradictory evidence, it's important to reflect on times when your bias is proven wrong. For example, when you're presented with instances of innocent Black people becoming victims of police brutality, your bias that many or all Black folks are criminals (and deserve to be punished) gets challenged. Maybe you realize the violence against this Black person is senseless and unwarranted, because they didn't do anything wrong.

How Do You Talk To Your Partner About Bias?

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Even if your partner's biases make you angry, leading with vulnerability and honesty is the best way to address them. Share how sad, hurt, or angry they make you feel, using "I" statements like, "I feel hurt and I've felt hurt for awhile because I heard you say [insert whatever was said here]," says Hargons. You can also add, "I don't have the energy to expand yet, but I want to come back to this conversation when I'm able, if you're open to it." Or you can straight-up say, "I would like to talk about it, so let me know when you have time to dig in."

Be specific and tell your partner, for example, "I didn't like it when you made a comment about the Black guy who talked to me at the grocery store." Tell them how you interpret their comments and why you find them irresponsible, Joseph says. Keep in mind, she adds, that challenging your partner's words and actions may cause them to get defensive.

Both experts emphasize the importance of your partner doing the work to overcome their biases. The first step, Hargons says, is re-education. Because mainstream media and literature tells a slanted story about race, now is the time to read more books by BIPOC, she says. She recommends reading The Racial Healing Handbook by Anneliese A. Singh, and Me and White Supremacy: How to Recognize Your Privilege, Combat Racism and Change The World by Layla F. Saad.

Drive home the significance of your partner educating themselves by saying, "I feel loved when you do research and take the initiative to educate yourself about [insert identity or social justice issue here]. It shows me you really care about my experience and want to understand more."

How Do You Bring Up Bias To Your Partner's Family?

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Hargons suggests an approach similar to discussing bias with your partner: Be honest about your feelings. Joseph recommends saying something like, "I am offended by your comments regarding [insert issue here]. I'm asking that you refrain from such commentary in my presence and educate yourself on why your comment is offensive."

If you don't feel comfortable speaking directly to your partner's family, consider telling your partner, "You may not feel the way your family does, however, I am offended by their comments about [insert issue here]. Please create healthy boundaries for me and with me, that honor our relationship, and my race, personhood, and identity."

Along with reading works written by BIPOC, Hargons suggests that people looking to reduce racial bias attend therapy with someone who specializes in that area. Another solid starting point is seeking communities of anti-racist white people. A group Hargons suggests joining is Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ), which aims to "undermine white support for white supremacy and to help build a racially-just society."

If your partner's family reacts negatively during this conversation, let them know that their responses are hurtful and that they reinforce oppression, Hargons explains. It's OK to literally say, "What you're saying is reinforcing white supremacy right now."

Especially If You're A POC, Put Your Mental Health First

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Don't feel bad if you ultimately need to prioritize your mental health as a person of color. "Take space from them if you are injured," Hargons says, adding that setting boundaries can be crucial to your well-being.

In the same way white and non-Black people can benefit from attending therapy with someone who specializes in anti-racism, Black people and POC can benefit from having a therapist of color or who's trained in cultural competency. In her research, Joseph says she has found that cross-cultural therapeutic relationships can mimic the outside world. Think: micro-aggressions by white therapists toward Black clients. This can ultimately be re-traumatizing for Black people.

Not every Black therapist will be a perfect fit for every Black client. But, she says, "The assumption is a Black therapist can help a Black person develop the copings skills needed for our unique idioms of distress. This distress is rooted in racism and socioeconomic injustices."

As touchy as these conversations about bias may be, they are necessary. Every time you can push back on prejudiced beliefs and behaviors — be they ableist, classist, homophobic, or racist ones — you're standing up for marginalized people and paving the way for those with privilege to start using that weapon for good.


Crystal Joseph, LCPC, LPC, ACS, Clinical Executive Officer of Psyc Your Mind counseling services, and author of Conversation with a Clinician of Color: Likeness, Lucy, & Lemonade

Candice Nicole Hargons, PhD, therapist, director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma, and University of Kentucky Assistant Professor of Counseling Psychology