By Nadeem Badshah
PRINCE Harry has been praised by campaigners for highlighting how “unconscious bias” can affect racism and his warning that many people fail to admit their prejudices due to their upbringing and environment.
The Duke of Sussex said the perception was learned from family, adverts and neighbourhood and a lot of people did not understand what an unconscious bias was.
In an interview in the September edition of British Vogue magazine, guest-edited by his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry said: “Despite the fact that if you go up to someone and say, ‘What you’ve just said, or the way you’ve behaved, is racist,’ they will turn around and say, ‘I’m not a racist.’
“I’m not saying you’re a racist, I’m just saying your unconscious bias is proving that, because of the way you’ve been brought up, the environment you’ve been brought up in, suggests that you have this point of view – unconscious point of view – where you will look at someone in a different way. And that is the point at which people start to have to understand.”
His comments come after research by the LinkedIn website this month found the kind of words used during a hiring process could be damaging UK businesses’ chances of attracting diverse talent. The study found that only 48 per cent of UK professionals get training in an inclusive language and unconscious bias.
Weyman Bennett and Sabby Dhalu are co-conveners of the Stand Up To Racism group.
Bennett said Prince Harry “has done a service to people, the experience he has in so-called high circles in society shows the high prevalence of discrimination”.
He added: “It is backed up by hard data – people with the same qualifications or more find themselves discriminated against.
“Prince Harry is experiencing that with a mixed-heritage partner and child, seeing the way people behave towards his partner and him. It is a big step forward. It’s not just in people’s minds. It’s good that he has exposed that at the highest level, as people are more likely to listen to him.”
Unconscious bias in the UK has been in the news in recent months.
For instance, the research found that more than half of UK news articles about Muslims showed a negative bias towards them.
The Muslim Council of Britain’s centre for media monitoring found “deliberate misrepresentation and unconscious bias” by sections of the press, where 59 per cent of all articles about followers of Islam associated them with negative behaviours while more than a third misrepresented or generalised about them.
Bennett added: “We have to return to having more anti-racism training in schools, and children understanding their own heritage and where they come from.
“Parents have experienced themselves but education is where you learn wider things beyond your own family.
“We have more in common than what separates us. That is the message we are going to fight for.”
Kishan Devani, vice-president of the Liberal Democrats’ campaign for racial equality, hailed the royal for raising a taboo issue.
He told Eastern Eye: “Prince Harry makes an incredibly pertinent point. By highlighting these often pre-existing unconscious racial prejudices in the minds of people, he is raising an issue that many in BAME communities know exist, but do not often speak about.
“By raising this, he is giving a voice to thousands of BAME individuals whose voices may have been suppressed, who have not spoken out when they have felt they have been unconsciously treated badly due to their race.
“For someone of Prince Harry’s stature to raise this matter and bring light to individuals who may not be inherently racist, but have preconceived notions and pre-existing unconscious bias towards BAME individuals raises the profile of this issue which has been a part of our society for many years.
“This is an unspoken issue in society and permeates through our system and institutions. For Prince Harry to raise this matter highlights the need for our government and various institutions to sit up and take note.”
In response to the Duke’s remarks, a spokeswoman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission told Eastern Eye: “Our work is framed by a simple belief that if everyone gets a fair chance in life, we all thrive.
“Understanding people’s prejudice and the extent of bias in all its forms is key to unlocking the barriers that may hold many people back. By understanding the attitudes that underlie discrimination, we can ensure efforts to tackle it are more likely to hit the mark.”
Separate research in January found that Britons from ethnic minority backgrounds have to send on average 60 per cent more job applications to get a positive response from employers compared to their white counterparts.
The study by Oxford University found that while 24 per cent of white British applicants received a call back from UK employers including shops, accountancy firms, IT companies and restaurants, only 15 per cent of ethnic minority applicants got one. And people of Pakistani heritage had to make 70 per cent more applications than their white peers.