I talk about lived experience a lot. Mostly in the context of never downplaying someone’s feelings because you haven’t walked in their shoes. I’d like to travel down that road a little in this post. Consider it an invitation to discuss.
Let me get something out-of-the-way… We’ve turned into a group of over-sensitive people. Everything offends us. We take up arms over things that 25 years ago we would’ve let go. In my opinion, that extreme sensitivity makes it impossible to have true discourse. We will disagree because we don’t have the same thoughts/lives/experience, but we stymie conversation that leads to change or friendship with the way we petition and cry over silly things. With that said…
You know me, right?
I’m a 30-year-old woman with an extensive travel history, education, and continued developing career experience. I’ve acquired degrees, taught, worked the floor, and a host of other things. I’m a daughter, sister, aunt.
I also know what’s it’s like to be nervous or scared because of the color of my skin in a particular group or crowd. I’m confronted with both my unintentional/intentional bias and that of those around me.
Unintentional bias: assumptions made or conclusions drawn about someone without realizing it. Ex: woman are primary caregivers or introducing a female senior exec as, “The top senior female executive” instead of just senior executive by way of introduction. That can be a bias against her.
Intentional bias: having those assumptions and using them to form a particular view against a group or idea.
I’d add stereotype and prejudice to the discussion. My definition of stereotyping is like unintentional bias in that your limited experience with a group of people has led to an assumption about them. Prejudice is turning those wrong assumptions into fact and allowing that to shape how you treat someone.
Being aware of my bias is important as I refuse to allow it to cause me to treat someone poorly. So not just race, but other differences. Disabilities or views or behaviors included here. I’d challenge the notion that treating someone fairly doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with what they do.
I remember the first time someone called me the N word. I was walking down the streets of Buckhannon, collecting can goods around Halloween for the Parish House for a college activity. A group of us were walking when some local young kids approached from the opposite direction. As we were crossing paths with them, they were gesturing a bit aggressively in my direction, but I thought I was being paranoid. Until they were behind us and I heard them shout that word. I was the only black girl in the group so who else were they talking to except me. I didn’t feel I could say anything to the others in my group because they wouldn’t understand.
That word was used as a way to threaten me and I felt unsafe after that moment. The sad part is that isn’t the last time I’ve been called that by someone with the intention of intimidating me.
Conversely, I’m in Nashville at the moment during the NRA convention. (Cue the bias!) While sitting in Ripply’s yesterday, I made a few observations we’ll say. “Look at all the bass pro shop, gun-toting individuals running around!” Bad, I know.
We were the restaurant with the country music playing and the predominantly white patrons, and I noted I was a little (okay, a lot) uncomfortable. My fears, unintentional bias, and stereotypes were swirling in my mind. Then I had to check myself.
What’s my point?
To note that experiences shape our reaction. I don’t believe every person is a racist and I’d hope people wouldn’t make unfounded assumptions of me based on my skin color, but it happens, it’s a reality. We do that, including against those who are the same as us.
Bias existing is a reality and until we acknowledge that, true discussion and change won’t occur.
A little less sensitivity, a little more conversation, a lot necessary action.
I’m little tired of being nervous.
To checking ourselves.
Travel on, road warrior.