As a nice liberal progressive white woman, of course I don’t like to think I’m biased. I have spent most of my professional life fighting racism–as an attorney representing victims of harassment and discrimination, and as a trainer presenting programs to prevent harassment, discrimination and bias, and to increase diversity, inclusion and belonging. And yet, I have been socialized in a world that privileges white people. I don’t have to worry about any member of my family walking or jogging down the street being seen as a criminal because of the color of his skin. I don’t have to worry about them dying at the hands of police or white supremacists. So I like to think I’m not biased.
In 1980, I went to the Democratic convention in NYC as a reporter. There was an alternative people’s convention in the Bronx on Saturday morning. My friends in Manhattan told me not to go there at all, and definitely not alone because it was a “dangerous neighborhood.” I went anyway. I took the train and came out into a beautiful summer morning. I walked along the neighborhood main street and saw smiling families out enjoying the day. From the restaurants came inviting smells of food. Everyone around me spoke Spanish. The music coming from the shops was salsa and mariachi.
I felt at home, because I grew up among Latinx people.
After a few blocks I crossed a street and the thought popped into my head that I had entered a dangerous neighborhood. I looked around wondering why I thought that. There were still smiling families enjoying the day. Still delicious food smells. Still upbeat music. But then I knew why. Now I was in a black neighborhood.
Fortunately, I recognized my biased thought, put it aside, enjoyed my walk through that neighborhood, and went on to the people’s convention. But I have remembered that incident all these years later because it reminds me of what’s in my head. It reminds me I can have biased thoughts at any time, triggered by a person’s skin color–no matter how good my intentions.
How about you? As Ibram X. Kendi says in his book, How to be Anti-Racist, the opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” Read this book, and do everything you can to be anti-racist.