Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Damsels Not In Distress

"It's all in you head."  "You're making too big a deal of it."  "Don't make a mountain out of a molehill." "Just stop worrying about these things."

Have you been on the receiving end of these types of statements?  When you express concern or point out a potential problem, are you often treated as though you're overreacting or thinking about things that you shouldn't be thinking about?

Then you're probably a woman.

One of the primary ways women are held back in today's business world is by making them question themselves.  We're trained to question our instincts.  We're told that when we notice a potential problem, that the real problem is the fact that we noticed anything at all.

I've had this experience and it is daunting.  It's not daunting when it happens once, but it's when these types of statements become the anthem of your work life that they begin to weigh you down.

I think of myself as someone who is self-reflective.  So, when a colleague I respect tells me that my concerns are all in my head, I want to listen.  I want to step aside and think about it.  However, when the same colleague has concerns that he expresses to me, I am quick to take responsibility and to apologize.  I've noticed that this same level of respect and responsiveness is not given to me.  Instead, it's as if my colleague believes his job is to console me.

There are two stereotypes at play here men are fixers and women are worrying, damsels in distress.

My colleague isn't a bad guy, he's just unaware of his own unconscious bias.  Are you aware of yours?

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Good Folks

A few years ago, a friend and I were trying to figure out what we could do to help move the conversation along.  By conversation I mean discussion on race, class, gender, sexuality, age, religion, and more.  The topics that tend to divide us.  These issues are like fault lines running through our nation, threatening not only to further divide us, but to destroy us.  In spite of all we have in common, in light of all we've overcome, there are several areas in which Americans are consistently, undeniably divided.  

We don't have to agree on everything.  But we have to respect one another enough to not let our individual preferences lead to violence, hate, a lack of empathy, or turning our backs to the challenges of others.  

If I've learned anything over the last eight years, it's that I must have hope.  Traveling throughout the country has given me a sense and a solid belief that most people are good.  We have strong ideals, cherished values, and morals steeped in what we've learned and what we've seen.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to many of us, every single day we make choices that don't align with who we think we are.  

That's my audience.  That's my target.  The "good" folks who abhor violence and hate, but don't realize that their unconscious choices often contribute to the very climate they revile.  

About a year ago, a friend tried to slow me down, he tried to encourage me to see the big picture and to be realistic about my goals.  He reminded me that it wasn't as if I was trying to change the world.  

To which I immediately responded, "Of course, I am." 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Rachel Dolezal: Is This Really a Mental Health Issue?

Many of us refer to the work performed by the United States Postal Service as "snail mail," because it's so much slower than email or even texting.  Though we may laugh at how long it takes for a letter to move through their system, the system itself is somewhat efficient.

Rachel Dolezal has claimed over the years that she's been on the receiving end of various hate-related intimidation tactics.  From finding a noose outside her front door to receiving threatening mail in her PO Box.  In the end it was discovered that the noose belonged to a hunter who used it to cure meat.   And the letter?  After an extensive investigation, the Post Office determined that the letter never went through their system and the only way it would have ended up in the NAACP box was if someone who had a key placed it there.

And there is so much more.  For a timeline of Dolezal's hate crime claims look here.

Not a single one of these claims has lead to an arrest.  The investigations have always ended with inconclusive results.  When I first heard about this story - a woman who misled others about her own heritage in order to adopt another - I wondered what was missing in her life to make her long so desperately to be someone else.  Then, as pieces began to unfold, I realized there was something else there, hidden behind the jokes about her hair, her birth parents claiming she's really white, and the ensuing circus.

In the dark shadows of this story is a woman either so hungry for attention or so unbalanced that she may have fabricated (or even created) incidents of hate and intimidation.  Did she think it was exciting?  Fun?

Over the years I've read several stories and watched videos of the victims of hate crimes coming forward to share their stories.  None of them have acted as though they'd just gotten off of a thrill ride at an amusement park.  Something fundamental may be broken in Dolezal's mind, something completely unrelated to the color of her skin.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Project Implicit

I'm in the middle of something and I don't know exactly what it is.  In the past, I've used this blog not so much as a megaphone for any one perspective, but really as a place to work myself out.  So, here goes.

A few years ago, around the time a black boy named Trayvon Martin was killed for walking down the street, I wrote a blog post called, "Please Don't Kill My Sons."  I didn't post it initially because I'm a chicken.  Eventually I posted it, but it was still buried on my site because I posted it chronologically, so it was never the first page on my blog.

I did this, in part, because I was still in the fog and I couldn't yet see the sun.

Anyway, I've been freaked out about this whole thing, but still determined to believe in the good of the average police officer, etc, etc., but I still had a lot of feelings about the way things are.  Some of these stories don't lie.  There's no way around what happened to Tamir Rice.  He looks so much like my son and reacted the way my son would and the same way that a lot of other 12 year-olds would.

A car was suddenly careening towards him on the grass.  Someone was yelling.  And (most likely) before he could even process what was happening, he received a deadly wound.  For what?  A few weeks ago over breakfast a friend of mind said that Rice raised his gun.  Then this friend asked why Rice's gun didn't have a red tag on it.

After watching that video I honestly don't know if that cop even had time to notice whether or not the gun had a red tag.  But Rice was 12.  12 year-olds should not be sentenced to death because their toy gun is mising a tag or because they move their arm the wrong way while standing in a park watching a car that's racing towards them.  There is no way to train a child to handle that.  Do I instead just tell my boys to never leave the house?  Do I tell them to never trust the police?

I knew that couldn't be right.  I researched more, searched deeper, and deeper, looking more closely at unconscious bias.  It's really the only thing that gives me hope.

I can see so many exampels of inequality - related to race, class, gender, religion, sexuality, and so much more - and it hurts my heart.  I don't want to believe that we live in a world like this.  My white, Christian, heterosexual friends have the same emotion but it leads them to believe that race is no longer an issue and that the real problem is that we keep talking about it.  Just like me, they don't want to believe that we live in a world where so many people are trying to hold others down because of their race, their gender, their weight, their sexuality.  My friends want to believe it's a coincidence.

But when I look into the bright, brown faces that greet me each morning, I realize that denial is one luxury that has not been afforded to me.

In the years since writing that first post in response to Martin's death, I've learned about how complicated the human brain is - much more complicated than I'd ever imagined.  I realized that the mind puts objects and memories in categories, sometimes those categories come in the form of stereotypes.  Bias, preferring one group over another in ways that defy the values we profess to hold, is part of the human experience.  It doesn't mean we're evil, it means we're human.

The other day I was listening to the radio and someone (possibly one of the many Republican presidential candidates) was asked to comment on the "conversation" that many black parents feel the need to have with their black sons.  He responded that he was aware of those conversations but that he could not relate.  For a moment I thought he was going to validate an experience that he hasn't had to live, I thought he would find a way to empathize.  Instead, he explained that he couldn't relate because he teaches his children to respect everyone, not just police officers.  Ouch.

But he doesn't get it.  He doesn't realize that he's looking at the issue from a place of privilege.  As a man and a white person, he holds a place in line that others don't.  From his vantage point, a certain level of hard work equals results.  If everyone worked even half has hard as he did in life, then there would be no need for entitlements, right?  Wrong.  He's wrong, but not evil.

When I was in school the teachers would say that racism and bigotry were about ignorance.  I could never figure out if they meant that people who lynch and burn crosses on lawns needed a basic course in human genetics or if my teachers were trying to tell me that these individuals just needed more friends of color.

30 years later I agree and completely disagree.  I do think it's about ignorance.  But it's not about cultural competency and simply learning about how we're all different.  The fact that we're different is not something that needs to be taught.  We all know that.  Studying the cultures and histories of every type of people group imaginable would overload the mind.  And really, isn't that just a call to be politically correct.

We are ignorant.  Not about each other, but about ourselves.  What we don't know is how our hidden minds - in what always seems to me as a beautiful show of efficiency, executed at the speed of light -  can intuitively and quite innocently put people into categories that then inform even the smallest interactions we have with them.

Basically, in our nation there are systems at play, systems that every single one of us either helps to make and/or maintain, that privilege some while holding back others.  Not because we're bad, but because we're human.  While certain groups most certainly experience bias differently than others, we're all guilty.

There is no Skynet and the only Matrix at play here has nothing to do with Keanu Reeves.  The real matrix that keeps us so far apart from one another is the one that lives in each of our unconscious minds.
I have bias and so do you.  You don't need to memorize the challengs of every religious, racial, cultutal, or gender group you might come into contact with.  How will you also remember how to do your job?  No one wants a world in which we're all walking around on egg shells.

We need to know which group or groups is most likely to make us act in ways that don't align with our vaues.  The best way I know how to find that out is by taking the Implicit Bias Test.

It worked for me.