Justice

Dad With Interracial Family Opens up About His Own Biases to Confront Unfair Stereotypes

August 30th 2016

By:
Laura Donovan

"I have a confession to make." 

That's the simple opening statement of Bay Area father's Facebook post admitting that he still harbors some racial biases, despite the fact that he is the father of a black child. 

Frank Somerville, an anchor for San Francisco's Fox affiliate KTVU, confessed in a post that he had an embarrassing but necessary experience to share with his fans. He wrote that even though he has a biracial family, he once had a racial bias against a black man whom he saw walking in the direction of a white woman at a bus stop at night. Somerville wrote that he instinctively told himself to keep an eye on the man in case he planned to bother the woman in some way.

What Somerville saw next, however, forced him to confront his unfair racial bias against the man:

"As he was walking I noticed a little boy running to catch up with him. The little boy then grabbed his dad’s hand. All of a sudden my whole view of the guy changed. I realized he was a dad just walking down the street with his son. I realized that he was 'okay' and wasn’t going to do anything. I was so angry with myself. The man did absolutely nothing wrong. And yet I initially saw him as a possible threat. And let’s be honest. The main reason was because of his skin color."

Somerville wrote that his inherent bias exposed some unpleasant realities about himself:

"The whole way home I was thinking to myself, 'I grew up in Berkeley. I have a black daughter. And yet I still have that %$#%[email protected] bias. What the %$#%$ is wrong with me.'"

He noted the hypocrisy in his thinking versus the warnings he has issued his daughter about others treating her unfairly for being black:

"And on top of that I just had a talk with my daughter about how people might treat her differently from her 'white' sister based solely on her skin color. And now here I am doing the EXACT same thing. I was/am really disappointed in myself. But it also shows how strong that bias can be. And I hope by telling this story that maybe it will get other people to think about their biases. We ALL have them. And the only way to eliminate them. Is to realize that they are there in the first place."

His post has been shared many times and sparked an interesting debate on Facebook about racism, with Somerville arguing that he has to open up about his own experiences with racial bias if he wants to promote racial equality in his work and life:

Facebook

Somerville isn't alone in his subconscious bias.

A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1976 suggested an apparent racial bias against black people in a social experiment. Study participants were asked to watch footage of a black person shoving another person and a white person shoving someone else:

"While subjects, observing a videotape of purported ongoing [interaction occurring] in another room, labeled an act (ambiguous shove) as more violent when it was performed by a black than when the same act was perpetrated by a white."

A 2003 study conducted by Northwestern University turned up similar findings. Researchers created computer-generated faces that were identical with the exception of skin color. Study participants rated the faces with black skin as appear more hostile than those with white faces. 

"Compared with individuals low in implicit prejudice, those high in implicit prejudice saw hostility as lingering longer and appearing more quickly on the faces of African Americans," the authors wrote. "Thus, stereotypic expectancies appear to penetrate a fundamental aspect of on-line person perception. These findings add to the evidence from social cognition research showing that relatively low-level cognitive processes such as attention and encoding are subject to the effects of stereotypes and prejudice." 

Read Somerville's full post about the importance of discussing these subconscious biases here: