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Hello Bias My Old Friend

 

Unexpected Guest

 

A few days ago, at my exhibit table at the annual METCO Director’s Conference, my bias showed up unexpectedly. As conference goers came and went, I sat, sipping my coffee, interacting in the friendly, unguarded way I love most. About thirty people had come and gone from my table when suddenly, I noticed I was on my feet, standing and talking to my latest visitor. I had no memory of making a choice to stand. Nor could I recall the physical movements of pushing back in my chair, leaning forward, putting pressure on feet, and rising. It reminded me of those moments on the highway when suddenly I think, “I have no memory of the last five miles of highway. Did I go through the toll already?” Well-practiced, engrained behaviors are powerful companions, even when we don’t want them to be.

Man over woman

My entire demeanor had changed. I glanced down and noticed I’d also slipped my coffee cup behind my stack of books. Was I trying to look more professional? Focusing on the conversation with the white man standing in front of me became a struggle once I recognized that my auto response to white men had silently compelled me to rise, to show heightened attention and respect. He didn’t ask for it. I simply gave it. He was warm, open, and significantly younger than me. Yet, my bias to overvalue white adult males, particularly the white-collar sort, showed up the second the first white male approached my table. Just to be clear, the unexpected guest was not the white man, it was my subconscious bias-based behavior towards white men.

hands releasing

Though I don’t consciously believe white men are superior to anyone else, apparently, subconsciously I do. A lifetime of messaging that white men matter more, is engrained in me. I didn’t confess my inner conflict to my white male table visitor. I wish I had. We probably could’ve both learned something, had a laugh, and made visible the invisible grip our respective socializations can have on us.

talktalktalk

With all the talk from white people about how Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths are about all kinds of tragedy except racism, I hope we can all go deeper. What does cause a white police man’s hand to reach for the gun and shoot to kill? What does create the urge to hold firm a chokehold amidst the words, “I can’t breathe.” We are all susceptible to being driven by that which we’ve been conditioned to fear, value, accept, and reject. Bias comes with the human experience as much as hunger, thirst, sickness, and health.

unpleasent truths

Far from making us bad people, getting in touch with our own biases may be our best bet in becoming better people. Our tendency to accept what we already know and reject what seems unfathomable is among the biases to be explored. For anyone who thinks they don’t have a racist bone in their body, I encourage you to journey inwards. I’m still familiarizing myself with the many racist, and now I’m learning sexist, bones in my body. With each discovery, I feel increasingly able to see people for who they are and decreasingly beholden to invisible beliefs about how much they should matter to me.

fearless exploration

 

Image Sources

Uninvited Guest

Man Over Woman

Hands Letting Go

Talk Talk Talk

Unpleasant Truths, Comforting Lies

Fearless Exploration

13 thoughts on “Hello Bias My Old Friend

  1. Emmy Hopwe says:

    Great insights. Thanks for sharing Debby.

    1. Deborah Bernat says:

      Thank you very much….

      I believe this is the first time I have experienced anyone honestly recognizing, exploring and sharing how much their subconscious beliefs/biases affect their choices and behaviors, In a transparent open forum……

      I have been observing, contemplating, experiencing, exploring, understanding and challenging (relatively subtle yet potentially lethal) manifestations of bias/"unpleasant truths" such as these, for as long as I can remember…..And it has felt like a pretty lonely endeavor….Until now……

      Thank you for doing and sharing this profoundly important work……..

      This reply comes from my deep gratitude and respect for you……….

       

       

       

      1. Debby Irving says:

        Isn't it interesting how much more we're able to admit bias and other human 'imperfections' when someone else does it first? I learned this kind of honest self-reflection at the White Privilege Conference, where you would find hundreds of people also willing to let down their personal defenses in the name of interpersonal connection. We're not alone!

  2. Thank you for your open self-scrutiny, Debby – setting a good example for all of us.

  3. Debra Hurley-Jones says:

    Hi Debby,

    Thanks for the insight, I believe it's the only way the world will change, one person at a time being brave enough to do things differently.  You are an inspiration.

  4. Katy Allen says:

    Thanks for writing on examining your internal bias Debby! It's always helpful to see examples of others going through this process in a self-compassionate way, I think it helps folks own up to their personal biases and prejudices, and then work through them.  

  5. Sue O'Brien says:

    Debby, Thanks for this– taking a step back and looking inward- always important and relevant. I wish it didn't seem more important now than ever. 

  6. Sherry Gordon says:

    Dear Debby,

    Hi, there, my dearest and precious white sisterfriend, Debby!  Wow and wow! And wow and wow! What a very wonderful and wondrously brave and honest blog post article which you have so very graciously and generously composed, as well as your other sensitve and astute ones, sister!  Sister, I think that is is perfectly okay and normal and natural that your automatic response was to give special respect and notice to this white gentleman who came to your table.  What you did makes so much sense, sisterfriend!  It is natural for you, sister, because of your white conditioning, white process, and white enculturarion and your enculturation as a woman, and your conditioning and enculturation as a white woman.  I can just imagine myself as a woman as well being unconsciously guided by internalized sexism, Debby, I can so relate as well, my dear friend! What you did makes so much sense beause I can just imagine and see in my mind's eye and when I pray how you would unconsciously and automatically respond this way due to your conditioning and enculturation as a white woman-this makes so, so much perfect sense, sister! I can imagine when I pray and meditate that if I were a white woman that I would also have that automatic and unconscious response.  I love all of your very honest and sagaious points which you wrote so courageously in this great blog post article.  I loved, Debby, how you said, "Far from making us bad people, getting in touch with our own biases may be our best bet in becoming better people." What an on point and so right on point which you have made with this very wise statement, Debby!  I must also say that it is perfectly normal to still at times do, think, and feel racist and sexist things for this is an imperfect lifetime's journey and path and an imperfect lifetime's recovery of healing. Progress not perfection is the most important thing and the key.  You are doing your absolute very best, my friend and sister who you are so, so very much as the incredibly and amazingly magnificent wonderful white woman who you are, Debby! You are trying so hard and working in such a spectacularly diligent manner, sisterfriend! You are doing just so great and such excellent, efficiently productive and proactive, progessive work, sister!!!!!!! Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for always, Debby!!!!!!

    Peace,& Love & Very Warmly & Sincerely For Always,

    Your lesbian black sisterfriend in solidarity, Sherry Gordon

  7. Stephen Pereira says:

    Debby:

    Im so proud to be able to call you not only a colleague but also a friend.  You continue to challenge yourself and examine and re-examine your own behaviors and reactions which continue to make you an ally who truly understands that we are all "works in progress".

    Continue to shine!

    Steve P.

  8. Hillary Turkewitz says:

    Debby,

    I always find your writing to be interesting and insightful; and, I appreciate your focus on sexism in this blog.  Thank you!

    As I read your piece, I could relate to your feeling that you rose out of ingrained respect.  I wonder if it is also possible that you rose out of a desire to be respected.

    Hillary

     

    1. Debby Irving says:

      Yes! Yes! That’s such a good point Hillary! Of course I did rise to be respected, didn’t I? Actually, it’s usually more about us than the ‘other.’  Thank you so much for sharing your curiosity with me, and publicly even! This is the kind of co-learning and co-exploring that makes us all wiser. Ironic how far it is from the form of ‘polite’ conversation I was raised with, and yet how affirming it feels. Thank you for building on my blog with your very deft insight.

       

  9. Alison Armbrecht says:

    Debby, I love that even as a published, autobiographical (and therefore, self-reflective) author on the subject of white privilege, you can still surprise yourself with the unconscious response.  What sets you apart is that you noticed your response, and you took that moment and used it to help us all learn.  Thank you so much for sharing and for tying it into the grief of Michael Brown and Eric Garner's deaths in such a thoughtful, meaningful way.

  10. syb says:

    Insight at work and given a thoughtful walk around in the light – well done!

    Heard an excellent sermon by Jesuit priest reflecting on our crrent conversations on race and the ignorance we all carry of the deptha nd breadth of racism – he asked all parisonhers to read one of 2 books by Black Theologians on racism in the Catholic church as an advent practice:

    Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010) by Rev. Bryan N. Massingale, S.T.D. 

    Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (Fortress Press, 2010) by Dr. M. Shawn Copeland

    Of course told him of your book too!

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