Unconscious bias can be this subtle moment between two people where one person makes a decision based on some trait the other possesses. One of the most intriguing books I’ve read on the effects of unconscious bias, and sometimes flat out racism, is Citizen by Claudia Rankine. Where we get a rare look into circumstances that to the biased are acceptable and non-problematic but to the person on the receiving end of that biasness it is hurtful.
Those who are biased like to cry hypersensitivity to issues relating to minority or marginalized groups. Those who are directly impacted by those biases would argue its entitlement to a better quality of life for those who fit a genetic profile and quite frankly, its bullshit, pardon my language.
I have started a new habit that makes my straight friends slightly squeamish and my LGBT and racially diverse friends beam with pride. Whenever I notice a moment of biasness, I point it out as such. For instance, there’s this guy who claims he has no problem with LGBT people. Yet he continually does things that state otherwise. Like try to cut me out of every social loop he is in. But he did something less subtle I was able to shine a spotlight on. He was sitting at a table with two other people whom I am acquainted with. His back is to me and I am sitting a a table behind him. One of the guys he is sitting with begins to make faces at me (flirting…), to which the biased man turns around and blames me for provoking the man. All I did was sit down and ask someone to proofread an email I was about to send, at another table.
So I pointed it out to him, publicly. I did so matter-of-factly and said to him “I don’t appreciate that because you are one of many who believe it is OK to do these types of things and then claim your not a bigot. You have blamed me for that persons actions and you do so with regularity. All I did was sit down and that man began making advances to me and I simply took note while I was speaking to this man over here, in front of me. You are isolating me as someone who causes disturbances by simply existing and it not only makes me uncomfortable, it hurts my feelings.” I made my point and he apologized.
We have can have a booming voice that would resonate with others who experience hidden or unconscious bias. My suggestion is to point it out to people as it happens, don’t make fun of them, don’t call them names. Instead, name the behavior, restate the behavior back to them, then explain how it made you feel. Make them come face to face with the consequences of their actions. Make that which is unconscious, conscious and that which is hidden, unhidden. Make them think (and we might just discover that we ourselves have a little of that hidden bias as well). Together we can make our communities more aware, awareness brings education and education brings change.
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Jeff aka Ruthie Utnage