Last week I co-wrote an article on the phenomenon of implicit bias: biases based on race, gender, orientation, and other noticeable attributes of which the biased individuals themselves are often unaware. These biases often occur in the workplace, academic, public, or social settings; circumstances where equality should be the norm and all people treated with the same respect. These biases are often unjustified and have pernicious effects on all parties involved.

I would like to suggest the possibility of justified biases— biases associated with the most intimate preferences we all hold. You would be hard pressed to find someone who would use the word ‘prejudiced’ to describe someone who prefers to date blondes over brunettes, short women over tall women, or white women over black women. While by definition, having those overt preferences is prejudiced, society does not generally look at it in a negative way. It is simply personal preference.

Your preference for white, black, Asian, brown, mixed, small, or large does not matter. It is not the content of the statement that is telling, but its form. Although we live in a world where open discrimination is unacceptable, our personal preferences are constantly being justified. Where do we draw the line of what constitutes an acceptable and unacceptable setting for discrimination?

Although the limits of personal identity have never been clearly defined, if I were to ask you who you are, your answer would probably go beyond your physical traits. Yet, superficial physical traits are the very things to which we could reasonably hold a justifiable preference when it comes to attraction.

It is important to understand that I am not trying to say that we are bad people for having preferences when it comes to our personal and sexual relationships; we all have them, and attraction often isn’t a choice, but an impulse that is largely out of our conscious control. You don’t choose to be attracted to someone; you simply are attracted. What I am suggesting is that understanding the process of attraction and personal preference that we share about our intimate personal relationships is very telling about how we view ourselves, others, and love.

As you know, Valentine’s Day is this week. If you are lucky enough to have someone with whom you can spend it, someone who sees you as more than just a physically attractive object of sexual desire, someone whom you truly love and who truly loves you, then I challenge you to consider what it is you really mean when you tell them“I love you.”If your initial attraction was based on particular desires which arose from justified personal preferences and biases, then at what point did you stop being attracted to the shell and start being in love with the person?

Join me on March 22 and 23 for the Trent University Bias Conference and explore how biases effect our everyday lives and what we can learn about ourselves by critically examining them. Register at [email protected]