Verna Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them

I was on a long road trip this summer, and I was having
a wonderful time listening to the amazing Isabel Wilkerson’s
“The Warmth of Other Suns.” It documents six million black folks
fleeing the South from 1915 to 1970 looking for a respite
from all the brutality and trying to get to a better
opportunity up North, and it was filled with stories
of the resilience and the brilliance of African-Americans, and it was also really hard to hear
all the stories of the horrors It was especially hard to hear
about the beatings and the burnings and the lynchings of black men. And I said, “You know,
this is a little deep. I need a break. I’m going
to turn on the radio.” I turned it on, and there it was: Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown, 18-year-old black man, unarmed, shot by a white police officer,
laid on the ground dead, blood running for four hours while his grandmother and little children
and his neighbors watched in horror, and I thought, here it is again. This violence, this brutality
against black men has been going on for centuries. I mean, it’s the same story.
It’s just different names. It could have been Amadou Diallo. It could have been Sean Bell. It could have been Oscar Grant. It could have been Trayvon Martin. This violence, this brutality, is really something that’s part
of our national psyche. It’s part of our collective history. What are we going to do about it? You know that part of us that still
crosses the street, locks the doors, clutches the purses, when we see young black men? That part. I mean, I know we’re not
shooting people down in the street, but I’m saying that the same
stereotypes and prejudices that fuel those kinds of tragic incidents are in us. We’ve been schooled in them as well. I believe that we can stop
these types of incidents, these Fergusons from happening, by looking within
and being willing to change ourselves. So I have a call to action for you. There are three things that I want
to offer us today to think about as ways to stop Ferguson
from happening again; three things that I think will help us reform our images of young black men; three things that I’m hoping
will not only protect them but will open the world
so that they can thrive. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine our country
embracing young black men, seeing them as part of our future,
giving them that kind of openness, that kind of grace we give
to people we love? How much better would our lives be?
How much better would our country be? Let me just start with number one. We gotta get out of denial. Stop trying to be good people. We need real people. You know, I do a lot of diversity work, and people will come up to me
at the beginning of the workshop. They’re like, “Oh, Ms. Diversity Lady,
we’re so glad you’re here” — (Laughter) — “but we don’t have a biased bone
in our body.” And I’m like, “Really? Because I do this work every day,
and I see all my biases.” I mean, not too long ago, I was on a plane and I heard the voice of a woman
pilot coming over the P.A. system, and I was just so excited, so thrilled. I was like, “Yes, women,
we are rocking it. We are now in the stratosphere.” It was all good, and then it started
getting turbulent and bumpy, and I was like, “I hope she can drive.” (Laughter) I know. Right. But it’s not even like
I knew that was a bias until I was coming back on the other leg
and there’s always a guy driving and it’s often turbulent and bumpy, and I’ve never questioned
the confidence of the male driver. The pilot is good. Now, here’s the problem. If you ask me explicitly,
I would say, “Female pilot: awesome.” But it appears that when things get funky
and a little troublesome, a little risky, I lean on a bias that I didn’t
even know that I had. You know, fast-moving planes in the sky, I want a guy. That’s my default. Men are my default. Who is your default? Who do you trust? Who are you afraid of? Who do you implicitly feel connected to? Who do you run away from? I’m going to tell you
what we have learned. The implicit association test,
which measures unconscious bias, you can go online and take it. Five million people have taken it. Turns out, our default is white.
We like white people. We prefer white. What do I mean by that? When people are shown images
of black men and white men, we are more quickly able to associate that picture with a positive word,
that white person with a positive word, than we are when we are
trying to associate positive with a black face,
and vice versa. When we see a black face, it is easier for us to connect
black with negative than it is white with negative. Seventy percent of white people
taking that test prefer white. Fifty percent of black people
taking that test prefer white. You see, we were all outside
when the contamination came down. What do we do about the fact
that our brain automatically associates? You know, one of the things
that you probably are thinking about, and you’re probably like, you know what, I’m just going to double down
on my color blindness. Yes, I’m going to recommit to that. I’m going to suggest to you, no. We’ve gone about as far as we can go
trying to make a difference trying to not see color. The problem was never that we saw color.
It was what we did when we saw the color. It’s a false ideal. And while we’re busy
pretending not to see, we are not being aware of the ways
in which racial difference is changing people’s possibilities,
that’s keeping them from thriving, and sometimes it’s causing them
an early death. So in fact, what the scientists
are telling us is, no way. Don’t even think about color blindness. In fact, what they’re suggesting is, stare at awesome black people. (Laughter) Look at them directly in their faces
and memorize them, because when we look
at awesome folks who are black, it helps to dissociate the association that happens
automatically in our brain. Why do you think I’m showing you
these beautiful black men behind me? There were so many, I had to cut them. Okay, so here’s the thing: I’m trying to reset your automatic
associations about who black men are. I’m trying to remind you that young black men
grow up to be amazing human beings who have changed our lives
and made them better. So here’s the thing. The other possibility in science, and it’s only temporarily changing
our automatic assumptions, but one thing we know is that if you take a white person
who is odious that you know, and stick it up next to a person of color, a black person, who is fabulous, then that sometimes actually
causes us to disassociate too. So think Jeffrey Dahmer and Colin Powell. Just stare at them, right? (Laughter) But these are the things.
So go looking for your bias. Please, please, just get out of denial
and go looking for disconfirming data that will prove that in fact
your old stereotypes are wrong. Okay, so that’s number one: number two, what I’m going to say is move toward
young black men instead of away from them. It’s not the hardest thing to do, but it’s also one of these things where you have to be conscious
and intentional about it. You know, I was in a Wall Street area
one time several years ago when I was with a colleague of mine,
and she’s really wonderful and she does diversity work with me
and she’s a woman of color, she’s Korean. And we were outside,
it was late at night, and we were sort of wondering where
we were going, we were lost. And I saw this person across the street,
and I was thinking, “Oh great, black guy.” I was going toward him
without even thinking about it. And she was like,
“Oh, that’s interesting.” The guy across the street,
he was a black guy. I think black guys generally
know where they’re going. I don’t know why exactly I think that,
but that’s what I think. So she was saying, “Oh, you
were going, ‘Yay, a black guy’?” She said, “I was going,
‘Ooh, a black guy.'” Other direction. Same need,
same guy, same clothes, same time, same street,
different reaction. And she said, “I feel so bad.
I’m a diversity consultant. I did the black guy thing.
I’m a woman of color. Oh my God!” And I said, “You know what? Please.
We really need to relax about this.” I mean, you’ve got to realize
I go way back with black guys. (Laughter) My dad is a black guy.
You see what I’m saying? I’ve got a 6’5″ black guy son.
I was married to a black guy. My black guy thing
is so wide and so deep that I can pretty much sort
and figure out who that black guy is, and he was my black guy. He said, “Yes, ladies, I know
where you’re going. I’ll take you there.” You know, biases are the stories
we make up about people before we know who they actually are. But how are we going to know who they are when we’ve been told to avoid
and be afraid of them? So I’m going to tell you
to walk toward your discomfort. And I’m not asking you
to take any crazy risks. I’m saying, just do an inventory, expand your social
and professional circles. Who’s in your circle? Who’s missing? How many authentic relationships do you have with young black people,
folks, men, women? Or any other major difference
from who you are and how you roll, so to speak? Because, you know what?
Just look around your periphery. There may be somebody at work,
in your classroom, in your house of worship, somewhere,
there’s some black young guy there. And you’re nice. You say hi. I’m saying go deeper, closer, further,
and build the kinds of relationships, the kinds of friendships that actually
cause you to see the holistic person and to really go against the stereotypes. I know some of you are out there, “You have no idea how awkward I am. Like, I don’t think this
is going to work for me. I’m sure I’m going to blow this.” Okay, maybe, but this thing is not
about perfection. It’s about connection. And you’re not going to get comfortable
before you get uncomfortable. I mean, you just have to do it. And young black men, what I’m saying is if someone comes your way, genuinely
and authentically, take the invitation. Not everyone is out to get you. Go looking for those people
who can see your humanity. You know, it’s the empathy
and the compassion that comes out of having relationships
with people who are different from you. Something really powerful
and beautiful happens: you start to realize that they are you, that they are part of you,
that they are you in your family, and then we cease to be bystanders and we become actors,
we become advocates, and we become allies. So go away from your comfort
into a bigger, brighter thing, because that is how we will stop
another Ferguson from happening. That’s how we create a community where everybody, especially
young black men, can thrive. So this last thing is going to be harder, and I know it, but I’m just going
to put it out there anyway. When we see something, we have to have
the courage to say something, even to the people we love. You know, it’s holidays
and it’s going to be a time when we’re sitting around the table
and having a good time. Many of us, anyways, will be in holidays, and you’ve got to listen to
the conversations around the table. You start to say things like,
“Grandma’s a bigot.” (Laughter) “Uncle Joe is racist.” And you know, we love Grandma
and we love Uncle Joe. We do. We know they’re good people,
but what they’re saying is wrong. And we need to be able to say something,
because you know who else is at the table? The children are at the table. And we wonder why these biases don’t die,
and move from generation to generation? Because we’re not saying anything. We’ve got to be willing to say, “Grandma,
we don’t call people that anymore.” “Uncle Joe, it isn’t true
that he deserved that. No one deserves that.” And we’ve got to be willing to not shelter our children
from the ugliness of racism when black parents don’t
have the luxury to do so, especially those who have
young black sons. We’ve got to take
our lovely darlings, our future, and we’ve got to tell them we have
an amazing country with incredible ideals, we have worked incredibly hard,
and we have made some progress, but we are not done. We still have in us this old stuff about superiority and it is causing us to embed those further
into our institutions and our society and generations, and it is making for despair and disparities and a devastating
devaluing of young black men. We still struggle, you have to tell them, with seeing both the color and the character of young black men, but that you, and you expect them, to be part of the forces of change
in this society that will stand against injustice
and is willing, above all other things, to make a society where young black men
can be seen for all of who they are. So many amazing black men, those who are the most amazing
statesmen that have ever lived, brave soldiers, awesome, hardworking laborers. These are people who
are powerful preachers. They are incredible scientists
and artists and writers. They are dynamic comedians. They are doting grandpas, caring sons. They are strong fathers, and they are young men
with dreams of their own. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Verna Myers: How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them

  1. She has it wrong. she makes it seem like African Americans and European Americans are literally different species and that we have to learn to coexist. We are all people, we all have similar thinking patterns, we are all affected by the same diseases, etc. etc. When will people see that fixing biases isn't about learning to coexist with other "species" of human, it is about seeing past the differences and realizing that we are all humans.

  2. All this racist comments! are you people serious? The lady is asking for our help in respecting humanity and I thought she made a great point.

  3. It's been that long since I've been gone on deployment? What happened to TED? Since when agendas are discussed here? Well, time to go…

  4. We don't really have that many blacks in Albuquerque New Mexico but people are killed by the cops often real often they shoot homeless people they shoot anybody they don't care where in a really crazy situation in Albuquerque

  5. I wonder how many of those who expressed the dissenting views below watched the whole thing. Maybe you don't agree with her about Ferguson (I don't either) but anyone who says that racism doesn't exist hasn't talked to a black person recently.

  6. Nubian Girl you are the one that can't handle the truth! 90%+ of crimes against black are done by other blacks! Black fatherless homes are over 60%! You seem to blame the problems of black America on whites, WHY? The answer is 'because its easy!' Here is the truth, I hope your sitting down, a person is driven by what's in their hearts. If your a 'hater' you'll, Nubian Girl, will run yourself into the ground looking for an excuse to blame anyone but yourself. Shut up, self reflect, and know that everyone (including  whites) want the best for YOU! Fill that hole in you heart with something positive, or go the way of the dodo bird, gone, forgotten, and didn't leave a dime of good on this earth. PAZ

  7. Do you, ma'am, lock your car doors or cross the street quickly when you see a black man? Is the "we" you are referring to include yourself? Or who?
    You aren't speaking for me. I've never done that. I've never even thought about doing that.

  8. The irony in these comments are bewildering…
    Although the way she communicated is emotionally charged, I grew up in a diverse culture and I believe her message is imperative. The negative reaction to her speech are exactly the ignorant biases she's bringing to the surface. And to disregard our ignorance is a regression our own evolution. 

  9. "They're like, "Oh, Ms. Diversity Lady, we're so glad you're here" — (Laughter) — "but we don't have a biased bone in our body." And I'm like, "Really? Because I do this work every day, and I see all my biases." 4:19     o.O

    From a purely intellectual standpoint, I don't think so. Here is a list of 59.
    I bet there are some that you can relate to that you didn't know about, lady.
    Sure, some of these don't apply, but the point is that you have no right to claim that you "see all of your biases".
    You don't. 
    Trust me. 

    I am fascinated by the works of Jon Haidt ( and moral psychology, am politically neutral, value the truth, and don't trust emotional appeal as a reason to take action in the lack of logos. I need unbiased facts.

    Look into this too if you are truly interested in overcoming our biases.

  10. So much hatin on this talk… "Pushing a political agenda" you say? Point me to any talk that doesn't aim to influence how people see the world – which, by the way, is what "politics" means.

  11. You guys know that the prosecutor McCulloch admitted to presenting false evidence to the grand jury right? It's not an agenda, the justice system isn't protecting us and everything this woman is saying is true.

    But whatever helps you sleep at night 😉

    And to Ted. You tried. 

  12. It's always blacks who dislike bias because it's never in their favor and it's nobody's fault but theirs. Bias is just using your experiences.

  13. I find it weird that no one cares to talk about the facts on this issue. Interracial violence is mostly black vs. white in USA. There are many reasons for this (poverty for example), but its still pretty weird that even bringing up this reality is seen as offensive. White people have good reason to fear black men just based on crime statistics. Even though justice system might be against blacks in many cases the interracial violence as such is mostly black vs. white. Black people in US have a violence problem in general. You can say that whites caused it, but it still doesnt change the facts. 

  14. she's grossly oversimplifying things, any biased person today (yes there are a lot of them) has literally nothing in common with the slavers of days past, that's just ridiculous (unless you're talking about actual KKK members or something, they're pretty similar)

    their motivations and thought processes are vastly different, sure the past has directly influenced social conditions leading to discrimination but that has more to do with socioeconomic conditions arising from the un-equal and horrible history than any kind of bias that's just ingrained in everyone.

    I think pretty much all bias or discrimination arises from friction caused by these social and economic differences and "solving" these problems can only be done by addressing these causes
    she's focusing way to much on individual psychological processes while these are merely symptoms of a deeper underlying inequality
    we need to fix the real inequality before we start talking about addressing perceived inequality because one is just a direct effect of the other (not saying that perceived inequality isn't real, just trying to differentiate between physical inequality and psychological inequality or something)
    and right now it's like a vicious circle where they both seem to be feeding of each other.

    ow and I think we need to stop playing the blame game, as it is only counter productive and biased 
    it's not a matter of attitude at all, it's a very complex socio-economic issue imo.

  15. I watched up until she said "… but one thing we know is that if you take a white person who is, like, odious… and stick it up next to a person of color, a black person who's fabulous, then that sometimes causes us to disassociate too, so you know think like Jeffrey Dahmer and Colin Powell…"

    WTF? Does she think that people are so stupid that they don't know there are good and evil people in every race? But just in case there are some who don't know there are good and evil people in every race, it would make more sense to put a lineup of Jeffrey Dahmer, Maury Travis, the Kobe Cannibal, the Monster of the Andes, etc. next to a lineup of beautiful people of all races. 

  16. While the issue is obviously an incredibly important one, I don't like the delivery of the speaker. It's very difficult to reach an audience by repeating the same old, wannabe-poetic, pseudo-emotional phrases like "Wouldn't it be great if we saw young men as our future?"…Yes. Of course it would. And while we're at it: "Can we all just get along?!" That's about the level of complexity contained in this talk. This kind of Oprah-level delivery while using simplistic rhetoric is just a way of portraying yourself as a beautiful, empathetic soul. So well done. Have a cookie. 
    Now, let's get to the real, difficult, complex issues behind all this…

  17. One of the best Ted Talks I've seen in a long time, already sent to my family..  I'm blown away by the comments I see.  But I shouldn't be.  I already know our world is hellish and full of mind-controlled, and therefore stupid-acting, people.  It's a horrendous crime what the mind-controllers have done to us.  I'm very glad that Verna still sees hope.  I'll remember this and hope to see hope myself.

  18. She says: When you see or hear something, say something! She's right about it being the hardest part. When people can just beat eachother in public and people film and watch without doing something this is more wishful thinking. I am just glad that I have never been just a bystander and my circle of acquintances and friends couldn't be more colorful in age & race. I am never going to understand racism, nor will I understand people who are controlled and driven mainly by their fear even though this life is so fkin short. I am a white guy and damn I love black people because living in Germany they are a thousand times more fun and laid back than the average white guy here. 😉

  19. I think she's totally right, but it's not just "black men = danger" that our minds have been trained toward. It's a host of other things as well. Sugar = good, guns = freedom, conservatives = evil, liberals = evil. If we are to be strong as people we need to see what's infront of us without bias and train our minds not on bias but away from fear and towards wisdom so that we can make wise decisions that are based on facts and reality. Our society will be far stronger as a result.

  20. It's impossible to love all people when you are a racist, a bigot or just plain ignorant. Then again, God is love. No God, no love. 

  21. This is AMAZING! Sometimes you just need a simple message about being a human being and seeing other humans. #blackisbeautiful

  22. Verna!!!!

    Verna just came through in a way I was ready. I love how bold and lively she was in giving us this talk. This is filled with raw truth and I love it. I want to meet her…I feel exactly how she does! We will change things once we actually work on who we are inside. 

  23. So why is she using Treyvon Martin as a victim? George Zimmerman might not be a saint, but by no means was Treyvon innocent. And, George is hispanic, stop this Jesse Jackson BS.

  24. This person is not competent to give lesson about bias. Her talk is an insult to reason and intelligence.

  25. I hope this Talk force folks to open their minds and realize that more than anything our reactions might need some investigating and to start we have to look within US and then accept what you see and want to CHANGE…

  26. Hey Verna Myers, maybe you should get your facts straight before you say something stupid! In Ferguson Micheal Brown was unarmed, yes, but he fucking attacked the cop while he was just doing his job! So in self defense, he shot him and ended up killing him. It wasn't because of racism! It was a cop doing his job! Fucking ignorant people only saying what you want us to hear and not the whole truth!

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  28. I saw this Ted Talk live in Brookline, when she played the slideshow in the background of black men, there were nearly as many Republican figures like Colin Powell and Ben Carson up there as much as Democrats.

  29. How dare she compare those THUGS to the sufferings and atrocities of the Slavery that took place….absolutely disgusting!

  30. Thank you for sharing this dynamic video. You captured the words that were on my tongue and in my heart but my voice was silenced when I tried to speak them. Again, thanks for being my voice.

  31. its uncomfy looking at yourself huh truth hurts so keep deflecting its sinking in the harder you resist it.

  32. Not surprised by the split reaction to this video. It was evident from the first two minutes that people would be divided. Which is too bad because I think there's something in her suggestion that we stop trying to ignore our racial differences. It's not working and it was never the intent of the Civil Rights movement. When MLK said black men and white men, he also said Jew and Gentile, Protestant and Catholic. Acceptance never meant that we should cease being the things that make us different.

  33. I find it very hard to understand how 1 in 4 people who registered an opinion disapproved of this presentation.
    I found it all positive stuff.
    I suspect the 1 in 4 are the people most in need of this advice.

  34. I am speechless right now! This video was awesome shes great at explaining ways to overcome racism in today's society. The best video TED has uploaded.

  35. this is was the greatest ted talk I've ever listened to; its humorous but raw, frank and demands your humanity and empathy!

  36. Biases are formed by what we are told, what we see, and what we experience. It is a natural part of how we see patterns and this conditions us to respond based on them. It is a way of base self preservation. That said we can use our higher level abilities to recognize our biases to test and review those biases for validity or misunderstanding. It is something to think about.

  37. Using Michael Brown as an example of bias?
    Liberal Media Host on "Michael Brown was a Thug!"

  38. The thing is, she raises great points about how we perceive black persons and black young people in society, and how a lot of it is from media representation and intrinsic biases. She's not implying it's just white people, either: she admits she has her own biases because she's aware that they happen and they vary depending on the context. Biases are indeed part of our cognition; they are natural, but they can be negated and worked on, so there's no excuse for us to continue holding negative perceptions of black people. That treatment is not justified with statistics, either: that does not give you permission to hold those views.

  39. Thank you Verna Myers for such a heart felt speech. We need more active woman and leaders I am happy to see this consciousness continue to grow. We are powerful beings now we are being recognized. Thank you again.

  40. The Bachelorette brought me here 🙂 Her warmth radiated through the screen; I had to check in to hear this fantastic woman speak!

  41. Give me a break this could've been insightful and actually have taught something. She's not aware of her biases like she claims to be. She seems to live on a world where all people of her color are discriminated against and are not capable of doing no harm. Michael brown wasn't an innocent man. The media can throw up pictures of him as an innocent boy all they want, but at the end of the day he was a wanna be thug. He stole from a convenience store and then attempted to use his superior size to bully the store clerk and then walk out. And no I'm not racist. I'm someone who hates it when real racists throws things in the faces of white people to make whites feel guilty about something they might not even be guilty of. If you want the real truth about these sorts of incidents then don't just assume!even the person shot is innocent and don't assume the cop may or may not be racist, wait for the facts. This could've talked about being aware of your biases around other people. But all it did was push her own narrative and biases. She has no clue what she is talking about.

  42. I enjoyed this speaker very much and love how she spoke about our black men's like they are kings , such a powerful message.

  43. Facts? Numbers of gun crimes by certain racial groups? The actions of the police are not beyond reproach but they are based on DATA and EVIDENCE, These are not biases, they are heuristics; there's a big difference between the two.

  44. About the experience of woman pilot…
    I felt the bias when the speaker was saying she feel such excitement and cheerfulness, but not until the time she think weather the female can drive or not. The reaction of "Yes! we wowen are rocking it" is a essentially biased thought.
    Of course everyone got biases. The difference is just how far we do to self-examination about our thinking and behavior. And thats actually the point speaker want to talk..

  45. Sooo… Basically, because a black man was catcalling me and harassing me while walking to my car I'm racist because I felt uncomfortable and scared? Really? I would have felt the same way if he had been white.

    And for those who would ask why I'm watching this, my professor insisted we watch it for an assignment.

  46. I am very sorry black folks trying to speak about their experience to white folks is a waste of time … they are ignorant of history they know nothing about the the injustice of the system and they never will give a damn talk to your own … and keep it moving!!!

  47. i wonder whether she lives in a predominantly white or predominantly black neighborhood? i wonder what she thinks of black rap music that has them holding guns, selling drugs, and the women twirking.

  48. I hate that this is still going on in today's world. When we cut we all bleed the same color even though we are not the same color on the outside. However, with all those wanting to destroy history instead of learning from it, we will only repeat history sadly to say.

  49. pop test – I recognise most of the people in the pictures, but who is the old dude at 17:27 ?. My Morgan Freeman / Bill Cosby / Other Dude radar is on the blink ?

  50. I can't agree more. We are all biases, whether we like to admit it or not. The best thing to do is acknowledge it and then work on it.

  51. I truly enjoyed this video and the speaker and her passion for what she spoke about. It has definitely encouraged me!!

  52. why does this women believe that all black people are good and pure just “as white people are”. why does she continue to ignore that there are bad people in all races and ages and genders? why does she want us to hold every single race in our friend circle? i completely agree that people need to include people of all areas of life but she is telling us to befriend them even if they are a serial killer just because we should have every race in our friend circle.

    this is a terrible ted talk.

  53. I don't understand the hate between black and white people. I've always treated anyone how they treat me. I'm from the south… I guess when you mix white and black together, you get grey, and there's a lot of grey areas in this ignorant divide of races…………….. I just don't get the concept of hating someone for the color of their skin man. It just isn't sound. It isn't logical! I wish I could speak on behalf of my race, but I can't. Unfortunately I can only speak on my own behalf, and that blows big ones…

  54. My name is Ronwixziv Barreiro. My FULL name has all but EIGHT letters of the alphabet in it including W,X,Y and Z. BLACK PEOPLE HAVE MOCKED ME AND MY NAME FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE. Not so with white people. Awesome black people may be out there, but I have yet to meet ONE.

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