Opinion: Fixing bias


“As we forgive them that trespass against us…” holds the line from one of the most often recited prayers of the modern era. Originally published in 1611, the 14-line, 70-word devotion encourages us to remember the simple rules of a civilized life. Remember that we are subservient to a higher power. Remember that food and security are not assured. Remember that we are frail and easily tempted to our own destruction. But also remember that vengeance benefits not us or those against whom we might seek it. Good advice. 

But in a world where many have replaced a Sunday morning reciting of the Lord’s Prayer with an endless watching of the Sunday political shows, our collective conscience seems to have moved from one of self-restraint to one of aggressive demands for retribution. Surely, if not retaliatory, the various talking heads seem to foment a sense of clannish entitlement: “We are wronged. Life is unfair. You are taking my stuff/dignity/position/whatever, and we will fight you to get it back.”

A well-respected local arts organization recently announced its intention to adhere to 50/50 by 2020 – a plan designed to reach “parity” in the arts. Good. All voices, if worthy, should be heard. Still, if one is to understand the thinking, because there has been bias, real or perceived, in who is getting selected to volunteer, to exhibit, to evaluate, then we must consider an institutionalized system of bias to stop bias. An eye for an eye and all that thinking. Perhaps. Art has long been filtered by wealth and power. Is it possible that talent matters but only as a subset of what is allowed to be seen? Still, can we expect or hope that an institutionalized bias is the tool used to fix institutionalized bias?