Bias, prejudice & domestic violence

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to reveal the ways our biases and prejudices control our behavior and decisions and how that relates to Shirley Sherrod, domestic violence and Mel Gibson & Charlie Sheen.

First a quick update:

“Battered Woman’s Syndrome”
Did Mel Gibson’s girlfriend Oksana fail to call the police or walk out immediately when threatened or allegedly abused because she suffers from Battered Woman’s Syndrome? And will this incident potentially harm the cases and claims of other women who have been battered? Read my article on my blog.

Stop listening to Mel Gibson – separating art from the artist”
Listen to the radio interview I gave Australia’s Derryn Hinch on news talk 3AW where we debate whether or not we should let an artist’s personal life and morality determine our appreciation of the art. To listen to my full interview visit Radio-Interviews

Lindsay Lohan’s real issue”
Read my responses, analysis and insights that I gave to a reporter’s questions about Lindsay Lohan about what her real issue is; I also offer unique insight into why Sandra Bullock kisses Scarlet Johansson during the MTV Movie Awards.

Now, let’s talk about prejudice and bias and the way that determines and controls our behavior, actions and decisions.

The dictionary defines bias as a preference or an inclination, especially one that inhibits impartial judgment; an unfair act stemming from prejudice. And prejudice is defined as an adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts; a preconceived preference or idea.

Most of us will argue that we are not bias or prejudice, that in fact, we are fair and we look at the facts and both sides of the argument, free of emotional sway, before making our conclusions or forming our opinions.

However, studies reveal that most of us have hidden biases; we have subconscious prejudices and our emotions tend to control us.

A study conducted in 2004, led by Drew Westen, Director of Clinical Psychology at Emory University revealed that both Republicans and Democrats clearly ignored facts that were contrary to their point of view.

Drew Westen said that the test subjects on both sides of the political spectrum reached totally biased conclusions when they ignored information that could not be rationally discounted.

Once they had made up their mind, brain activity ceased in the areas that deal with negative emotions such as disgust and sadness; instead activity surged in the areas involved in reward, a response similar to what addicts experience when they get a fix. In other words, the decision-making process was being guided and led by emotion and not reason or logic; there was no increase in activity detected in the part of the brain associated with reasoning.

The tests involved pairs of statements by the candidates, President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry that clearly contradicted each other. Using a brain-scan technique – functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) revealed that both Republicans and Democrats consistently denied obvious contradictions for their own candidate but detected contradictions in the opposing candidate.

Thus, our emotions and our biases control us and not our logic; our judgments occur outside of our conscious awareness; they are subconscious judgments. And unfortunately, that applies to every area of our life, not just politics.

A study released in July 2007, from Harvard that measured subconscious biases, suggests that racial bias affects the treatment that many African-American patients receive in hospital emergency rooms. The study’s authors include Dr. Alexander Green of Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Mahzarin Banaji from Seattle. (Harvard University created a special test to determine subconscious beliefs surrounding race and prejudice. You can take the Harvard Racist Test here.

Shirley Sherrod, a black US Agriculture Department employee involved in the controversy over comments about race, admitted that her father was killed by white men who were never charged and so she was once prejudice – favoring black farmers who needed help over white farmers but she says she transformed to “realize that the struggle is really about poor people.” Shirley Sherrod overcame her racial prejudices. Even the wife of the white farmer who she discussed in the speech defended her: “We probably wouldn’t have (our farm) today if it hadn’t been for her leading us in the right direction,” said Eloise Spooner of Iron City, Ga. “I wish she could get her job back because she was good to us, I tell you.”

So how do our biases and prejudices relate to domestic violence, Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen?

The media and public have been quite vocal in expressing opinions and judgments about Mel Gibson and his ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva following the release of the audio recordings of an alleged phone conversation between Mel Gibson and Oksana. Some people have called Mel Gibson a violent monster and abuser while others have called Oksana a gold digger.

The most interesting point here is that while no charges have been filed against Mel Gibson, and the judge presiding over the custody battle for their 8-month old child has not allowed the tapes to be admitted until such time that they are authenticated and proven to not have been edited, people have been screaming for justice and calling to ban and boycott Mel Gibson’s movies.

Meanwhile, another Hollywood star is in court facing charges of domestic violence but with no public outcry; Charlie Sheen, star of “Two and a Half Men” on CBS, is charged with felony menacing, criminal mischief and assault against his wife, Brooke Mueller Sheen – dating back to Christmas Day last year.

Court officials say the hearing has been delayed until August. Sheen’s attorneys say the defense needs more time to work out details of an agreement that calls for Sheen to plead guilty to misdemeanor assault in exchange for prosecutors dropping more serious charges. The agreement calls for Sheen to serve 30 days in jail.

Nonetheless, the question remains why have the media and public not been screaming over Charlie Sheen who has been charged, is in court for allegedly pulled a knife on his wife and who will be pleading guilty? Why have there not been the same calls for the boycotting of Charlie Sheen’s movies and TV shows as there have been for Mel Gibson’s movies? Why is CBS still happy to tape a new season for the TV show “Two and a Half Men” and happy to pay him $1.7 million per episode?

The answer is in our biases and prejudices. We have heard the audio recordings of Mel Gibson and Oksana Grigrorieva; we have heard the words and the emotional rants of Mel Gibson which affect us emotionally and; the media and many people have chosen not to forgive Mel Gibson for his Anti-Semitic remarks from four years ago. Joy Behar in 2006 on The View, said Mel Gibson “needs to be welcomed into the Jewish community by a public circumcision.” And despite Mel Gibson’s public apologies over those remarks, Joy Behar revealed on her TV show last night that he is still not welcome in the Jewish community.

With regards to Charlie Sheen; we watch him on his weekly TV show – for almost 7 years – a TV show that is consistently ranked as one of the most watched comedies every season; we welcome his TV character and welcome him in life as a bad boy but we refuse to see him as a man who has abused a woman. The reality of his abuse, of his violence against a woman, is ignored because we and the media seem to like him, to find him affable, viewing him as basically just a boy who is slightly wild and has not yet grown up.

But we and the media did not hesitate in condemning Chris Brown for assaulting Rihanna? Why? Was that because we saw the photo of her bruised face or because Chris Brown is black and so our bias and prejudice spiked our anger and condemnation?

The most significant and critical point to be made here is that the incidents of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen have, instead of highlighting the issue of domestic violence, only served to diminish and undermine our attention to the gravity of domestic violence  which affects not only women but also children. Each year, 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner and; half of those perpetrators abuse children in the household.

We need to be careful that our biases and prejudices – our favoritism – do not result in a free-pass to people who abuse women or engage in domestic violence. The first step to all change and transformation begins with conscious awareness.

(Read more about Battered Woman’s Syndrome here🙂

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.

Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

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