The Little Biases in All of Us

Joy Williams
The bad news is that everyone has implicit biases and most don’t know it. Then what’s the good news?

The bad news is that everyone has implicit biases — beliefs that are so ingrained that we don’t even know they’re there. And those implicit biases often find a way out of our mouths or through our behaviors as microaggressions, which are usually meant as compliments, “but contain hidden insults,” according to the WSBA Diversity Dictionary.

Out in the real world, this might take the form of someone telling Joy Williams that her hair is beautiful and then asking to touch it. For the person asking, specifically a white person, this might feel like a compliment; for Williams, a black woman, it translates to “you are not like me — you are other.”

Williams, the diversity and public service programs manager for the Washington State Bar Association (WSBA), explained this to about 600 members of the Washington Attorney General’s Office (AGO) who had gathered for the 2018 Professional Staff Conference in April. Her presentation that day, “Moving Forward with Intention,” was an introduction to the 19 upcoming half-day CLEs on microaggression and implicit bias that she is holding this year with smaller groups of AGO staff across the state.

And yes, Williams assured the crowd back in April, people do ask to touch her hair. But she’s dealt with worse, like when police held three of her sons on the ground, claiming they matched the descriptions of adults accused in a robbery — her sons were in middle school then. Williams has had epithets slung at her because she is black. She has lost friends and been ostracized from her church because she came out as gay. She’s also dealt with microaggressions and disrespect at work. But what she’s hoping to accomplish through the CLEs is to “normalize discussions around microaggressions and implicit bias.”

To the AGO staff who will attend those CLEs, she asks that they come prepared for an environment where there’s “no shame, no guilt, no judgment.” She asks them to be prepared to accept themselves because, again, we all have implicit biases. The work to get to that point isn’t easy and it’s often uncomfortable. But here’s the good news: By having courage and doing the work, as uncomfortable as it can be, “we can get one step closer toward creating the inclusive environment that, frankly, we all want,” Williams said.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the WSBA Diversity & Inclusion Plan. And for the AGO, Williams’ training on microaggression and implicit bias is part of a continuum toward a more diverse and inclusive workplace and culture.

“One of the things that I think is important is that our office has been really committed to having a workplace that is respectful and inclusive and seeing real value around diversity and inclusion,” Deputy Attorney General Erika Uhl said in a phone interview after the conference. “I think [Washington Attorney General] Bob Ferguson would be the first person to say that he sees the value of having diverse perspectives around the table.”

The AG’s office has adopted its own diversity policy and continues to evolve internal staff training on implicit bias. Williams’ CLEs, which are in-person only, are another piece of that evolution.

“I think it would be fair to say that through [Williams], the Bar has become a resource on issues of diversity and inclusion,” Uhl said. “And I see [Williams] as an expert on these types of issues, so I was definitely thrilled when she had a training on microaggressions available and was willing to do it.”

The seminars include hands-on training that highlights how to recognize implicit bias and microaggressions in others, as well as yourself; how to interrupt microaggressive behavior and biased language from other people; and how to react when someone else interrupts your microaggressive behavior.

As members of the legal profession going out into the community, Williams told the audience at the AGO conference, it’s imperative to be held to a high level of integrity and truly demonstrate the value of diversity, “which means, whatever we’re saying, then we must align with not just what we say, but what we do. So we talk about diversity from the inside out.”

To learn more about these trainings and additional partnerships between WSBA and legal professional organizations, check out the full article in the July/August issue of NWLawyer.

Diversity Celebration bannerWSBA’s Diversity and Inclusion Celebration and the fifth anniversary of the Diversity & Inclusion Plan is on June 6. The event, featuring a CLE and keynote speakers, will be held simultaneously at the WSBA offices in Seattle and Gonzaga Law School in Spokane. For more information:

6 thoughts on “The Little Biases in All of Us


    Mr. Butler, you hit the nail on the head: “The mission of the WSBA is ‘to serve the public and the members of the Bar, to ensure integrity of the legal profession, and to champion justice.'” What rights do Gays want now that they don’t already have? None. What rights do Gays want now that fulfill the WSBA mission? None, because sexual preference is a private matter and has no relationship to the mission you describe.

    Quoting you, “White people (especially white lawyers) have a moral and societal obligation to educate themselves on these issues, to eradicate white privilege, and to make our profession and our society equal and inclusive for all people.” Your comment is so RASCIST!!!! and is indicative of other similar comments which have appeared on the NW Sidebar which engage in “white shaming.”

    Gays should be treated fairly, but I don’t see their mistreatment as being a continuing problem. The battle has been won, but the warriors can’t let it go, especially if a sincere compliment cannot be taken as such but must be looked upon as a hidden insult. Perpetuating victimhood based on sexual preference is an obstacle to true inclusion.

    It is time for sexual preference to become a private matter. As I commented previously, I do not decide how to vote based on whether a candidate is Gay or not; and I don’t believe that I know anyone who does. But apparently that is just too far fetched for you to accept. You failed (or refused) to recognize my lack of bias and proposed I was in need of a “re-education” Sorry, I respectfully decline.

  2. Edward V. Hiskes

    The tone of your response — supercilious, patronizing, morally superior — is truly disgusting.

    The WSBA does not “champion justice” by embracing false sociological constructs such as “white privilege”, which are designed to create racial divisions, rather than promote racial harmony. Williams used her “hair grabbing” example to suggest that “white people” had some special desire to touch black people’s hair. I provided a counter-example, suggesting that Africans in Africa have the same impulse. My point was that this was not a “white” or “black” issue, but rather a more general human impulse, probably common to homo sapiens in general.

    After you have spent 30 years living in a household where an African language is spoken every day, I might be ready to listen to your ideas about “white privilege”. Until then, I think you are talking about things concerning which you know nothing.

  3. John Butler

    Mr. Hiskies and Ms. Petersen, the mission of the WSBA is “to serve the public and the members of the Bar, to ensure the integrity of the legal profession, and to champion justice.” An organization dedicated to justice benefits from making sure that people are treated equally before the law and by those employed in the law. White people (especially white lawyers) have a moral and societal obligation to educate themselves on these issues, to eradicate white privilege, and to make our profession and our society equal and inclusive for all people. I challenge you both to attend a similar training (which the WSBA offers for free) and see if you are still proud of what you have written.


    As part of the descoping of mission creep at the WSBA and to reduce dues, I would eliminate these jobs: the diversity and public service programs manager and the communications specialist job. A White woman can’t tell a Black woman that her hair is beautiful because it will be interpreted as an ingrained form of “hidden insult”? The author’s tenets are too tortured and try to put forth an image of victimhood which I believe is not accurate.

    And a “WSBA Diversity Dictionary? Do we really need one? 19 upcoming half-day CLEs on microaggression and implicit bias? Do we really need these?

    How ludicrous to assert there is “no shame, no guilt, no judgment” at these CLEs when the diversity and public service programs manager is offended by someone complimenting her hair. Please discontinue this blog if this is the best you can offer for weekly articles.

    This is yet another example of the gay community looking at daily life through victim colored glasses. When victimhood is no longer the focus, diversity will evolve into inclusion. Until that time, however, diversity as preached in NWsidebar only perpetuates exclusion.

    Why do I even need to know that Joy Williams is gay or that any candidate for BOG is gay? I don’t. I doubt any of us determine who to vote for based on whether the candidate is gay or not. If the WSBA truly supports diversity, it should stop making a person’s sexual preference an issue.

    Here again is an example why a voluntary bar association is needed. Those who think they need training to eliminate implicit gender and race bias could stay with the WSBA. Those who think this focus on diversity is past its prime can gravitate to the voluntary bar association where money would not be diverted to support such programs.

  5. Edward V. Hiskes

    Errata – My references to the “author” refer to Williams, not our newly-hired “communications specialist” who was writing about Williams in the article.

    The phrase “My wife a lot darker than the author ” should read “My wife [is] a lot darker than [Ms. Williams]”.

    And since I am already digging a hole here, I may as well comment on Ms. Williams’ problem that ” She has lost friends and been ostracized from her church because she came out as gay”.
    Obviously, what happens in a church has nothing to do with the WSBA. WSBA members have a commendable record of acceptance regarding gays, having elected openly LGBQ members to the Board of Governors at least as early as 1990, with there being gay Bar News Editors, Chief Counsels, and Disciplinary Counsels long before that, and more BOG members and WSBA Presidents since. Give credit where credit is due. Any LGBQ BOG candidate who supports honest, transparent government and fiscal responsibility will have my vote.

  6. Edward V. Hiskes

    The same thing happens to white males in Ghana. For example, I was with my wife at the market in Kpando, my wife’s home village. One of the market women asked a question of my wife in their native language. Then, my wife turned to me as said, “Eddie, she wants to touch your hand.” I was a little bit shocked, but I said “OK”, and politely extended my hand. The woman touched my hand, and a whole group of market women watching the event started giggling.

    Were the women insulting me by suggesting that I was different? No. Everyone could plainly see that I was different, both before and after the event. It did not occur to me that I should be offended.

    Another point: My wife a lot darker than the author, and she has lived in the Seattle area for decades, but the number of racial incidents she reports are few — about on the same level I have experienced as a “white” person with blue eyes. I think the author is exaggerating the problem.

    I also wonder why WSBA members need to be funding the author’s full-time job out of our license fees. If she must be on our payroll, then the author should be producing a few hours of CLE video each month, and posting them on YouTube, so we could at least get free CLE credits. Why should CLE’s that we pay for be “in-person only”?

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