Using the Mirror to See One Another
By Tanikka C. Price, Data and Finance Director, Central Ohio Pathways HUB, HCGC
*Adapted from a presentation given to Dress for Success Columbus Volunteers in response to George Floyd’s murder and the protests that followed on 6/10/2020 Click here to view the presentation
The current climate of racial and political division has called many people to question the world around them, but I’m calling you to look within rather than outward to find the change we all need. Although many of us look around and outside of ourselves when the conversation starts to talk about bias, it may be that humans are inherently wired for bias. Bias is intended to help us. Think for a moment, would you sit on a three-legged chair? Think of the visual cues you used when choosing your partner or spouse. What attracted you? What repelled you? This is the way we use bias to survive.
Sometimes, biases are what Kelly Robsham in her blog entitled "Creating An Inclusive Company: Challenging Our Biases" calls “cognitive shortcuts” that are a result of human evolution. “We’ve evolved to have cognitive shortcuts (also known as heuristics) meaning we often survive by relying on unconscious assumptions in our lives.” Robsham highlights several occurrences of unintentional bias that affects decisions made in the workplace, including in hiring, retention and onboarding practices. These biases can be based on gender, race, age, and several other factors that are deep down in one’s subconscious.
Understanding key terminology
Before we can really delve into looking within, at our own biases, we must understand the following definitions.
Bias: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/bias.
Implicit Bias: refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions and decision in an unconscious manner (Kirwan Institute). http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/.
Prejudice: preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/prejudice.
Discrimination: the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age or sex. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/discrimination.
Racism: prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/racism.
Anti-Black racism: policies and procedures rooted in institutions such as education, health care and justice that mirror or reinforce beliefs, attitudes, prejudice and stereotyping and/or discrimination towards people of Black-African descent. (Black Health Alliance) http://blackhealthalliance.ca/home/antiblack-racism/.
Understanding these terms and how they relate to one another will assist us in having robust and self-reflective conversations about the way anti-black racism is a part of every facet of American life. Making ourselves familiar with this terminology is key to understanding where we need to begin in a conversation and action in creating an anti-racist narrative in our everyday lives.
What does this have to do with you?
“To know the true reality of yourself, you must be aware of not only of your conscious thoughts, but also of your unconscious prejudices, bias and habits.” (Anonymous) https://www.al.com/opinion/2019/03/business-leaders-take-heed-we-all-have-unconscious-biases-which-must-be-confronted.html.
One must confront their own history with race, or lack thereof to being your journey of antiracism. What is your story about race? One’s beliefs about race are often defined by five factors: education, experience, history, “the talk” and your “five.”
Education- Who taught you what you know about US History and race? The story you were told is heavily influenced by whom you were taught. Did you have teachers of color growing up? Did you take classes in college about different cultures? Have you ever visited and learned from someone not-American?
Experience- What has been your experience with different races? When is the last time someone of another race came to your home? Does the place where you worship or gather socially reflect the world or is it a lot of people who look like you and have similar experiences as you?
History- What were you taught about US History. A seminal book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen, shows the fallacies and white-washed versions of history most of us were taught in US schools and how they affect how we see different cultures and the world. Keep in mind that tales of the hunt always glorify the hunter.
“The Talk”- have you ever had to have a talk with your children about how to survive in this country despite your race? Have you ever instructed your children how to act if they are pulled over by the cops? Have you ever had to tell your kids how to manage racial slurs hurled at them on the playground? If not, you have privilege. If so, you worry about your kids on a level that others cannot understand.
Your “Five”- Actor Will Smith says you are the five people that you spend the most time with. What are these people saying about race, gender, immigration, poverty and education? How are they affecting you? What is your Facebook thread reflecting? What side of history are you and your best friends going to be on?
For racial reconciliation to work we must confront our own biases. While we cannot control or change the education we received as children or the experiences that were provided or not provided by our parents, it is never too late to start educating ourselves and looking inward to confront our own biases. We cannot be afraid to confront the ways we were raised, how we were taught, and the experiences we have had. We must move forward taking a hard look in the mirror in order to see ourselves, and therefore each other clearly. It is only when we understand the foundations of our bias, that we can work with others to create real change.