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Posts Tagged ‘bias’

When it comes to race and race issues, I believe a lot of people would rather not talk about it.  It’s better than it used to be, so why can’t we move on.  I think one of the problems is the lack of experience with racial issues.  Yes, this is another blog about race.  It’s OK, it won’t make you feel bad, but might enlighten you to something that happens on a regular basis.

I’m writing this blog from a hotel.  I got upgraded to a suite.  My suite is not relevant to the blog, I just wanted to say, “my suite”.  The reason I am at a hotel is because I was invited to lead a day long workshop on inclusiveness in the classroom.  A group of professors are interested in making sure that their classroom is a safe learning environment for all students, especially students of color.  I give the university credit.  They looked at the data, and found that the students that were unsuccessful, especially in the science classes, were disproportionately underrepresented minority students.  Faced with this data, they chose to do something about it, but did not know what to do, so they called me.  That last sentences was a bit hyperbole.  I’m not a Ghostbuster, but I think I have a few good things to say on the subject.

I hope the workshop went well, but that is not the point of this blog.  The point of this blog is what happened over lunch.  Our group broke for lunch.  We ate at the institution’s cafeteria.  A group of PhDs, all white, except for me.  While ordering my food, a person behind the counter asked for my ID.  I told her I didn’t have one and I was a guest of the university.  She proceeded to ask for more information and a contact that she could call to get the appropriate account to pay for my meal.  I said I didn’t know the account, but here is the name of the person that is hosting me.  She gave me my food and I went to sit with the rest of the group.

During lunch, I asked if anyone else got “carded”.  Everyone said, no, they did not.  As one of the professors pointed out later, “You are a PhD and still being accused of stealing lunch.”  Yup.

During the second half of the workshop, this began our conversation.  If I, as a 45-year-old professor can’t get lunch without being harassed, how will your students feel in that environment.  But was I “harassed”?  Was it really that big of a deal?  You might be reading this, and think that it was a small, innocent mistake.  Maybe it was a small, innocent mistake, but it might be the 500th time that small, innocent mistake has happened to me.  To me, one of the biggest disconnects between people is their lack of experience with these types of events.  For the professors in that room, they got to experience this little incident indirectly through me, possibly for the first time.  But this has happened to me so many times, it has become my new normal.  If something small like that has happened to me hundreds of times, would you blame me if I lost it on the 501st time?  It would make sense to you to think I was overreacting, but not when you realize how often stuff like that happens.

I was happy on how affected the other professors were by this event.  One professor asked, “What do I do if instead of you it was my student?  And that student was spending the first 20 minutes of my class thinking about the harassment they just received?”  Exactly.

My workshop may have been useless, who knows, but getting to “experience” what it is like to be a minority in a predominantly white institution probably taught more lessons than I could have ever given.  Perspective and experience, we need more of it.


Insert bad transition here …

I have so many blogs that I need to get to, but there is not enough time in my day.  At some point I am going to blog about several questions I have about people.  For example, how common is it to pee in the shower?  Do only guys do it?  This question and more, I would love answers to.  Until next time.

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Welcome to Part 2 of my “I have no idea how may part” series on racism.  I know you are concerned about being a racist, and I am here to say that you are not racist.  No, seriously, you’re not racist.  However, you are biased.  As a matter of fact, we are all biased.  Whew, now don’t you feel better?  Well, you shouldn’t, because being biased can be just as damaging and in many ways, worse than being racist.

The problem with being biased is that it is pervasive and infects literally everything that we say and do.  The worse part is, we generally are not aware of our biases.  Actually, the worse, worse part is that we often don’t care about our biases and therefore make zero actions to improve our biases.  If you are reading this and thinking, I have no idea what you are talking about, then let me explain.  I mean, that’s why I am here.

It’s midnight, and you just left a friend’s house after a marathon game of Parcheesi (Google it).  You are walking down the street towards your car and you see three white kids sitting on the hood of your car.  They are looking at their phones and clearly playing Pokémon Go.  What do you do?  I am sure there are a variety of answers to this question, but I am sure most of you would respond in some form of “get them off my car and go home”.  If it were me, I would approach the car, and say, “Hey guys, this is my car.  You mind?”  And then I foresee that they would get off my car, I would get in, and drive home.  Simple.

Alternative:  It’s midnight, and you just left a friend’s house after a marathon game of Parcheesi (did you Google it yet?).  You are walking down the street towards your car and you see three black kids sitting on the hood of your car.  They are talking, loudly, and look like they just got done playing basketball.  You see that one of the kids has a basketball in his hands.  What do you do?

Before I continue, do me a favor.  Take a moment to think about the image of the two scenarios above.  How are they different?  How are they the same?  What is your reaction to the two scenarios above?

Here is my first honest truth of the blog; it never entered my head to write the two scenarios of BOTH sets of kids playing Pokémon Go.  I just can’t see three black kids playing Pokémon Go at midnight.  That’s my bias.  What’s yours?  In your mental image of the two scenarios, were both sets of kids the same age?  I bet they weren’t.  I bet the white kids were younger, maybe even in junior high.  I know, you think I biased you by making them playing Pokémon Go, but I also said it was midnight.  If young kids can play Pokémon Go at midnight, why can’t young kids play basketball at midnight?  What were the kids wearing?  Any wife beater t-shirts (Google it) in either scenario?  Or Nike gear?  Plaid shirts?  Welcome to the Brett Bias Show.  And finally, what about your reaction to the two scenarios?  Are you responding to both situations the same?  Here is my reaction, and it’s not the same:  “Hey fellas.  How’s it going?  Who won the game?  Cool.  I gotta run, you can come, but the ride might be bumpy from the hood of my car.  Thanks guys.”  I have no need to talk to the white kids, but I very much want to talk to the black kids.  It’s my bias.  It’s like I want to defuse a situation.  Or maybe I want to make sure the black kids know that I have nothing against them.  Or maybe I have a stronger desire to make a connection with the black kids.  I think any of the above reasons may be true, but it proves one thing, I have a bias in my reaction to the two scenarios.  What is your bias?

I know you might think this is silly, but I would guess that in many of your scenarios, your reaction to the black kids was more negative, more aggressive, or had more fear in its response.  At minimum, your image of the two scenarios was different based on your inherent bias.  What does this mean?  Well, it means that if you are a black kid, you have been reacted to in a certain way for most of your life.  And depending on how negative those reactions were will determine your attitude about life and how others perceive you.  I’m 45 years old and have a PhD, and my life experiences have shaped an image of myself that is not worthy of a PhD.  I attempt to shake it often, but it reveals itself more often than you would realize.

For example, several weeks ago, my wife, son and I went house hunting with our realtor.  While in a house, I heard a noise upstairs.  I was convinced that someone was in the house.  I assumed it was one of the owners that had not left the house before our arrival.  I asked our white female realtor to go upstairs to investigate.  I was not scared.  I was not trying to push her towards an intruder.  I was concerned that if whoever was upstairs ran into me, a big black man, the reaction would not be good.  It turned out to be the daughter of the owners who got her times wrong on the visit.  I stand by my decision of sending the realtor.  Let’s pretend our group had males and females, blacks and whites.  Here is the order I would have selected to go up those stairs, from least likely to most likely to scare the bejeesus of whoever was up there.  1.  Little white girl  2. Little black boy (because black boys are cute). 3 Little white boy 4. Little black girl  5. Adult white female. 6. Adult black female 7. Adult white male 8. Adult black male.  Do you agree with my order?  It’s based on bias and bias is real.  Bias determines whether you are more likely to call me Dr. Woods (which is my appropriate designation), whether or not I’m more likely to be pulled over by a policeman, or if you will be surprised when you find out what I do for a living.  Do you have any idea of what it feels like to be considered “lesser” by so many people on a regular basis for over 40 years?  Bias is a hell of a drug.

I was going to end it here, but than I had lunch with a friend.  She told me this story of how she has been grabbed by men so many times in her life that she has lost count.  It became so regular in her life, that if it happened during the day, when she got home, she saw no need to tell her husband.  This was not the first time I heard a story like this from a female.  Can you imagine, living your life in such a way that people grabbing you was so common place that you internalize it as normal?  You see, biases are so common place, that they make people believe things that they should never believe.  If you are reading this and you still don’t get it, then here is my advice:  Examine your actions and try to identify your own behaviors that might be adjusted because of who you are interacting with, males, females, black or white.  If that doesn’t help, ask your wife, or friend what biases you have, because they WILL know.


Insert bad transition here …

I dropped my kids off at daycare this morning.  The two high school? college? kids that were in “charge” could not have had a more disinterested look on their faces if they tried.  If they were in a corner smoking cigarettes, I would not have been surprised.  If there was an electric fence around the perimeter, I would not have been surprised.  They didn’t even try to look engaged upon my arrival.  Sheesh!  Oh well, my kids are safe and out of my hair.  Yeah, I’m disgusted with my self too.  Maybe I’ll catch Pikachu today.  That’ll make me feel better.  Ugh!

 

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