A couple of weeks ago I finished what might be one of my favorite books: Unfair, The New Science of Criminal Injustice.
Yes, I get it’s not the catchiest title. But the whole time I was reading it I couldn’t stop thinking, “Everyone should read this book!” (Just ask Tyler, I talked about it nonstop.)
Before I started this book, I positioned myself to be upset by statistics and stories of unfairness to innocent people. And while it does have that, what the author seems to refer to most is how biases affect the justice system without us even realizing.
He gives real examples of unfairness, but I feel like a lot of the underlying thread was how good people, with seemingly righteous motives, end up pushing the criminal justice system into unfair territory. How without our even wanting to be biased, we all are. And more importantly, how thinking we aren’t biased really hurts more people than if we’d realize our biases, admit to them, and think of ways to be more fair despite them.
I’m not saying this book was the end-all authority on fixing the justice system. But I do think the ideas were presented with an even mix of depth and basic understanding to make you think. And those thoughts of unknown biases were useful in my own life.
That book allowed me to read this article the other day in a more open mind. Instead of thinking, “Nope, I’m not that person,” I want to think, “‘That is wrong, we should do better,'” as the author asks.
No, I’ve never thought we should be biased or racist or whatever unfair, judgmental word comes to mind. Yes, I think everyone should be treated kindly and with understanding (hello, half-Asian working mom here). And no, I don’t understand what it’s like to be black. Or what it’s like to be a cop, for that matter.
I grew up with kids purposely slanting their eyes and making incoherent noises pretending to speak to me in Chinese (among other things). And I guess part of me felt like I understood racism just a little bit, therefore there was no way I would ever be biased to someone else because of race. But it’s true that I’ve never really experienced it the same as the author, and I most likely never will.
And while I don’t know what I can do as an individual to change things like the criminal justice system, I do know I can at least work on my own thoughts and actions.
In my own life am I recognizing my biases? Am I quick to judge others based on how they look, or what I think they should have done in a situation? Basically, am I being judgmental of others? Because the truth is, even if I was dropped into an identical life situation as someone else, I would probably make different decisions. I was raised differently, have different support systems, know other options, have a different level of confidence… There are so many factors in any given situation there will never be a way to fully walk “a mile in their shoes” as the saying goes.
So I guess what I’m saying is, everyone should read this book. Make a conscious effort not to judge. And make another conscious effort to help people, even if you think they made the wrong choice. (Hey, my parents have been doing it for me all my life!)