Anti-RacismWeekly reflections

Becoming aware of unconsious bias….

Tomorrow is always a special day in our synagogue and Cheder calendar, as we hear about the unique contributions each one of the children has made this year and gain some insights into the new generation growing up in our community. Do join us for the service and presentations if you can.

When we read from the Torah, we will hear about how young Joseph was sold into slavery by his ten older brothers. I’m very glad that our older Cheder classes have done some work about slavery as their special project to end the year. No-one in our community would ever justify slavery, yet we have, as Jews, both been slaves and slave-owners. We, still, are commanded to remember what it was like to be slaves in Egypt. We, still should empathise with those forced into slavery and work to free them.

To my shock, but not surprise, I took an Implicit Association Test (click HERE if you want to take one or more) earlier this week as a prelude to Unconscious Bias training that my rabbinic colleagues and I went through. The shock was that I have a strong bias towards white people, that is, I am prejudiced against black people. It confirmed what I thought, but I didn’t expect it to be as strong a bias as that.

Our lives, from almost day one, build and feed our biases. Children’s television, advertisements, everyday activities and conversations all reinforce, for example, male / female stereotypes, including associating men (and not women) with powerful or authoritative roles. Similarly, opposite-sex relationship norms, white heroes and heroines in stories are things we grow up with. The biblical Joseph is imprinted in our minds as looking like Jason Donovan, Donny Osmond or Phillip Schofield, whereas all biblical characters would have been much more Middle-Eastern or African in appearance. So, too, by the way would have been Jesus of Nazareth!

So, I can’t help but have biases, which I can also own up to as prejudices. What I can do is turn them from being unconscious to something of which I am aware. This step enables me to prevent my prejudices leading to racist words or deeds.

Last month, your Council and I published a statement on being an anti-racist community. This month, we want to invite you to volunteer to help us along the journey of putting our words into action. Please contact me by email to if you are willing to help us make this rewarding, and possibly difficult or painful journey.

Meanwhile, do join us tonight to welcome Shabbat and tomorrow as we adults learn from our children and draw upon their energy and enjoyment of life.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Richard Jacobi

One thought on “Becoming aware of unconsious bias….

  1. In 1967 my husband and I went to the Bahamas to teach black children. I had a class of 70 5 to 7 year old. When I went home in the evening I scrubbled my hands to clean them thoroughly. After a week they were quite sore and I questioned my behaviour. I had to acknowledge my unconscious association of black equals dirty, unclean. I felt so ashamed but that was the beginning of my journey into the unconscious that was to prove of inestimable value as a clinical psychologist. Learning to forgive one’s self is the other side of the coin. Shabbat shalom.

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