Stories of Unconscious Bias

Stories of Unconscious Bias with Smita Tharoor

Follow Smita Tharoor on Instagram or Twitter to keep up to date with new episodes of the Stories of Unconscious Bias podcast

We take our upbringing for granted and it was only with the benefit of hindsight I realised how lucky I was. Growing up in pluralistic India taught me the value of tolerance and the appreciation of accepting differences.

I arrived in London after my undergraduate degree in the 80’s with a firm sense of my own identity and a belief that the world is an accepting inclusive place. It was only through sharing stories that I began to realise that I truly had an accepting, liberal, non-judgemental, secular upbringing. There was very little in my backpack that was influencing me unconsciously. I was very fortuitous.

We are defined by our narrative, our personal story, our experiences. These have an impact on how we make judgements and form opinions. A lot of time that’s just fine but every once in a while, we make snap conclusions that have a negative outcome either for the other person or ourselves. Just one particular experience can lead to a lifelong belief. 

Knowledge is power, and I firmly believe through learning and reflecting we can effect positive change.

Since starting my own company Tharoor Associates in 2009, I have had the privilege of hearing some wonderful stories from different parts of the world. These stories were all shared in the context of understanding our Unconscious Bias. As I heard them, I realised that other than some obvious cultural differences, we all have very similar experiences. I wanted to share these stories with a wider audience, so I decided to have podcasts on the unconscious bias.

I have had the huge privilege of talking to a wide range of people around the world from California to New Zealand to Bombay with London in the middle. They share their stories and how those experiences have impacted on their unconscious biases. They tell us, the listener, what they learned from those experiences.  

To begin a real process of change, we have to look at our own Unconscious Bias and move away from these potentially damaging patterns of behaviour. Assumptions are internal; we carry them around like a backpack on our back. Before any change can be made in any relationship, we need to look into our backpacks.

I do hope that these stories will resonate with you and will help you the listener reflect and look into your backpack. Happy Listening.

Season 5

“Even at that stage, I had no idea of autism. So I might go to the nursery, something as simple as driving a different route. And he would scream and be so distressed. I’d have to drag him out of the car and take him into the nursery. And hey wouldn’t understand why he was so upset. And everyone else would just go ‘Oh he’s two, he’s having a tantrum’. And those comments used to grate and eat me up inside. I think weirdly my unconscious bias, it’s a double edged sword, because part of my unconscious bias was going, you’re doing something wrong. But the other side was, I knew something wasn’t right as well. I just didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have the language or the knowledge to translate all these points he was struggling with.”

Matt Davis lives in London with his wife, Eliza and two children, Isaac and Tabitha.
13-year-old Isaac is autistic and was diagnosed with autism at age 3.
Matt writes a blog about this journey and shares his thoughts and feelings at mysonisaac.net
Matt is a Trustee of Autistica and Parent Patron and business ambassador for Ambitious About Autism.
He is also a partner at Red Brick Road, an advertising agency in London.

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“Women have not been allowed to move out of the house, or even have a professional carrier. Not at all, because that was according to the ruling system of Taliban. That led to a mentality being created unconsciously within me, that whenever I was thinking of a woman, there has been a word associated to that. And that word associated to women is the word ‘dependent’. And whenever I was thinking of being a woman, the first thing that I could think of was being an dependent individual, or a dependent human being. Who is fed by a man, who works day and night at home, but at the same time, is not rewarded like a man.”

At age 27, Hosna Jalil was the first woman appointed to a high Interior Ministry post in Afghanistan. She held the post of Deputy for Policy and Strategic Affairs and later Deputy for Women Affairs. Until the age of nine she lived under the Taliban regime, not being allowed to attend school. Despite this she went on to achieve a BA in Physics before completing a master’s degree in Business Management at the American University of Afghanistanan. Hosna is an independent, feminine, wandering soul.

 

“I think it’s true for everyone who was around in the 60s and 70s, and even into the 80s. That there were cultural jokes. There were jokes around particular groups of people, or particular races, or particular colours, or particular religions. And we thought nothing of telling those jokes. In fact, it was a way of bonding with, in inverted commas, “like minded people”. That we could pick on a race or a culture or an affliction, or a personality trait or something. You could pick on something. And you could make jokes about it over and over and over and over again. And the level to which that reinforces something.”
Maria Arpa is the founder of the Centre for Peaceful Solutions and the executive director at The Centre for Non-Violent Communication. She has dedicated the last 20 years of her life promoting non-violent communication as an alternative to mainstream systems of domination culture. Through her career, Maria has worked in some of the most violent areas of the UK and the USA, including with families, in schools and workplaces, within neighbourhoods and in prisons.

“Even in our [Indian] education system, when we grow up, we are told these are the answers. Suddenly, you go abroad and study, and your faculty member asks you, what do you think? And the first thing that comes to your mind is like, what do you mean, what do I thin? You’re supposed to tell me what’s right. So when you get to this point in this profession, where there are no boundaries. You tend to start looking inwards. And you really start to question, what are the things that I value? What do I believe is right? And eventually, even your audience doesn’t matter. Because you present your truth. And what you’re saying is, this is what works for me, if you like it fine. If you don’t like it also fine, I respect that.”

 

Papa CJ is an award-winning, international stand-up comedian. He has performed over 2000 shows in over 25 countries. Forbes Magazine called him ‘the global face of Indian stand-up’ and Harvard Business Review called him ‘one of the most influential comedians around the world’. He has won awards for both Asia and India’s best stand-up comedian. He is also a motivational speaker and corporate training coach.

 

Season 4

Amish Tripathi

Amish is a diplomat, author and columnist. He is currently  the Director of The Nehru Centre in London, the cultural wing of the Indian High Commission.

Amish has been listed among the 50 most powerful Indians by India Today magazine in 2019. Forbes India has regularly ranked Amish among the top 100 most influential celebrities in India. Amish was also selected as an Eisenhower Fellow, a prestigious American programme for outstanding leaders from around the world, in 2014.

Amish published his first book in 2010, and has written 9 books till date. His books have sold 5.5 million copies, and have been translated into 10 Indian and 9 international languages.

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Eliza Griswold

Eliza Griswold, a contributing writer for the New Yorker, is a poet and journalist who was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for her book Amity and Prosperity. She’s a distinguished writer in residence at New York University and lives between New York and Philadelphia with her husband and son.

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Robin Shohet

Robin Shohet started his therapeutic career in 1976 working in a residential therapeutic community with people who had come out of psychiatric hospitals. He left in 1979 to work freelance as a therapist, supervisor and trainer. He is the author and editor of several books, the latest co-written with his wife, Joan, called In Love with Supervision: Creating Transformative Conversations. He is a student of A Course in Miracles, a book that has had a profound influence on his life.

 

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Jonah Batambuze is a Ugandan-American, multidisciplinary creative, and founder of a community for Black and South Asian people called the Blindian Project.

 

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Jaishree Misra is an author of Indian origin living in Britain. She has written eight novels published by Penguin and Harper Collins. She has also written a non-fiction account of building a writer’s studio on the beach in her home state of Kerala, India. She is a postgraduate in English Literature from Kerala University and has two diplomas from the University of London, one in Broadcast Journalism and the other in Special Education. She has worked in special education, journalism and as a film classifier at the British Board of Film Classification. She lives in London with her husband and daughter. Her daughter, Rohini, is a woman with special needs and specific difficulties with language and communication.

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Indira Kaura Ahluwalia

Indira Kaur Ahluwalia is an activist and entrepreneur turned advisor, coach, and now an author. She’s worked in federal government contracting, particularly international development, to build equity, accountability, and sustainability.

As Indira fulfilled her life’s passions and professional obligations, she was diagnosed with stage IV advanced breast cancer with bone metastasis at age 38. Her fight, and the lessons she learned, led her to write Fast Forward to Hope: Choosing to Build the Power of Self — a memoir to enable others to face and walk beyond their own issues.

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Emeka Onwubiko was the first Nigerian-born footballer to play for the Republic of Ireland and wear the Irish jersey. Today, Emeka is a UEFA Certified Coach coaching inspiring young football players.
On the weekend of May 1st, 2021 a number of football organisations in England are going silent on social media to highlight increasing levels of racist abuse on social media platforms.

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Andrew Feinstein is a former African National Congress (ANC) Member of Parliament who served in South Africa under Nelson Mandela. He resigned in protest in 2001 at the ruling party’s refusal to allow an unfettered investigation into a massively corrupt $10bn arms deal. He is an author of the critically-acclaimed The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade which reveals the corruption at the heart of the global arms business. He is also a film-maker and campaigner on the damage wrought by the global arms trade, and Executive Director of the London-based non-profit Shadow World Investigations. Andrew is the son of a Holocaust survivor and is married to Simone, a Bangladeshi woman, with whom he has two children.

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“When I came [to the UK], I realised in the last 16 years – it’s a gradual realisation of my own unconscious bias, of trying to be perfect. Trying to be this woman who puts on dinner at the right time, for everyone. But also who appears beautiful, intelligent, all those things. And only a few years ago, actually through the exposure of  feminism movements here [in the UK]. I have began to ask myself why? Why do I want to be perfect? Is it because men want me to be like this? Or is this from my own standards? And where did this standards come from? So actually, from quite a few years back, my New Year’s resolution to myself has stayed the same. Try not to be perfect.”

Dr Yan Wang Preston is a British-Chinese artist interested in the connections between landscape, ecology, identity and migration. She has specialised in conducting long-term projects that are demanding both physically and intellectually. For example, she photographed the entire 6,211km Yangtze River in China at precise 100km intervals for her Mother River project. Yan has published two photo books, ‘Mother River’ and ‘Forest’ with Hatje Cantz. She holds a PhD in Photography and lectures at the University of Huddersfield.

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“The fact that we have female body parts that are named after European men. This idea that the G-spot was named after Ernst Grafenberg in the 1950s, the Fallopian tubes, again named after a man, the Skene’s glands. And this is because the Europeans have done a very good job of documenting their findings, but they are new findings to them. They’ll document it, and then it’s disseminated across the board as if this is the standard for everyone to adopt. And anyone that that might have “discovered” this prior to the events are dismissed. So when I’ve written proposals for some sex journals about my research, about like, the Kunyaza tradition, and eastern Africa and their practises, they understand of sex and sexuality. Many times they don’t want to hear it unless I’m speaking about female genital mutilation”

Habeeb Akande is a sex educator, author and historian. His work explores an ancient African sexual practice for women’s satisfaction, which he believes can close the gender pleasure gap. His work also covers race relations and sexual intimacy in Brazil and Muslim cultures. Habeeb is the author of the Amazon bestselling book Kunyaza: The Secret to Female Pleasure, which was featured in the BBC documentary, The Orgasm Gap. Habeeb aims to present a positive representation of African cultures and sexually empower women with culturally-competent sex education.

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Helena Kennedy

“Important in, in my sort of evolution, was that when you’re at the bar, and you’re doing a case – and I was a sort of warrior on behalf of people who were often the underdog. There is a thing about doing a case is that you would fight hammer and tongs with the person on the other side. But somehow, afterwards, you were still part of the same world, which was to preserve the rule of law. And so it was, it was one of the things that was an important part of maturing, was that you don’t, you don’t loathe the person who’s who’s on the other side. You have to find a way of having a proper discourse. There has to be some way in which you can cross that divide, if you want to make make any kind of progress.”
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC one of Britain’s most distinguished lawyers. She has spent her professional life giving voice to those who have least power within the system, championing civil liberties and promoting human rights.
In an interview from a few years ago, Helena was asked about her best and worst days of works. Successes like the release of Paul Hill, one of The Guildford Four, is a given, but what was moving and powerful was to hear Helena talk of supporting and winning cases such as the battered women who killed their husbands after years of abuse. Or perhaps the wife of the bomb plotter accused of failing to inform on her husband.
Helena has conducted many prominent cases of terrorism, official secrets and homicide. She is the founding force behind the establishment of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford. In 1997, she was elevated to the House of Lords where she is a Labour peer.
She has published two books on how the justice system is failing women and has written and broadcasted on many issues over the years. Currently, she has taken on the role of Director to the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. She directs the Institute’s work upholding the rule of law and human rights globally.

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Season 3

William Dalrymple

“We were exactly the class which filled the Imperial hierarchy and could get a  place in the East India Company or in the Raj Civil Service.
It was a guy called Dalrymple who ended up in the black hole of Calcutta in 1756. And so generations have  been there one after another and like almost all the Brits, probably all the Brits whom I’d ever met, it was assumed that colonisation was an act of bringing civilisation to the poor benighted natives.”

William Dalrymple is a Scottish historian and writer, art historian and curator, as well as a broadcaster and critic. His books have won numerous awards and prizes including the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize to Thomas Cook travel Book Award, the SundayTimes young British writer of the Year Award, the Hemingway, the Kapuscinski and the Wolfson prize. He is also one of the co founders and co directors of the annual Jaipur Literary Festival.

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Katharine Birbalsingh

“What I’m saying is, is that because they’re not aware of their unconscious bias, they think they actually believe that what they’re doing is right. I mean, there are a lot of people who disagree with me, not just the people on the left or the right because many people refuse to recognise how complex racism is. People in the middle  recognise that racism isn’t just black and white, it’s actually far more complex. And it reveals itself unconsciously, in all kinds of ways, both on the right and on the left.  We tend to just think white people on the right are racist people and not people on the left as they are good. And I’m saying we should know what they’re doing is signalling virtue, they are not actually being virtuous.”

Katharine Birbalsingh is Headmistress and co-founder of Michaela Community School in Wembley, London. Michaela is known for its tough-love behaviour systems, knowledge curriculum and teaching of kindness and gratitude. In 2017, OFSTED the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills graded the school as “Outstanding” in every category. “

Katharine read Philosophy & Modern Languages at The University of Oxford and has always taught in inner London. She has made numerous appearances on television and radio and has written for several UK publications. Katharine has written two books and edited a third…. and a fourth called The Power of Culture which has just been published. Whether you agree with Katharine or not, she will make you think. In the 2020 Birthday Honours, Katherine was appointed  CBE.

Follow Katharine on Twitter: @Miss_Snuffy

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Ken Mc Cue

“I think these kids are so privileged. I knew that they were all going to third level education, they’re going to be doctors and engineers.  Then I realised that the class structure was so profound  and right from the very get go, where those kids would have been in, you know, local creches or play schools while the Traveller (indigenous ethnic group) kids were living on the other side of the road.”

Ken Mc Cue is a graduate of the International School of Politics and Culture, Moscow. He holds a Master of Philosophy Diploma in Peace Studies from Trinity College Dublin and a PostGraduate Certificate in Cultural Planning from De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Ken specialises in the area of Cultural Integration and Social Capital in Urban Regeneration. Ken is a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World and was officially declared an Atheist by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.

In 1997,  Ken co-founded Sports Against Racism Ireland SARI during the European Year against Racism. For more information check https://www.sari.ie/

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SP Rawal

“We were told that everyone was butchered, was literally butchered on the way to India. Now supposing we were there, what would happen? I think it made me more resilient. Subconsciously, having escaped death at such close quarters and at such a young age. It allows me to be a little more cavalier in my approach to life. Not careless, but carefree.”

SP Rawal was born in 1940 to a rich landowner in what is today, Punjab, Pakistan. At the age of seven, he was forced to go through the trauma of India’s partition, travelling as part of a caravan of bullock carts, staying at a refugee camp, and doing all sorts of menial jobs. Today, aged 80 he’s the chairman of a leading brokerage firm, dealing in arbitration support both nationally and internationally.

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Kate Nicholls

This is an extended two part episode. Part one is just under half an hour, followed by a brief segue into part two which is approximately twenty minutes. Please do listen to both!

“The other thing that was my unconscious bias, I’d always perceived myself as a strong womanI am a strong woman and I’ve coped with some pretty significant adversity in my life with pragmatism and a degree of humanity. But this one stripped me not only of my humanity, it stripped me of my motherhood, it stripped me of me. And that was very, very surprising. And I have come to understand why it is.”

Kate Nicholls is the author of Under the Camelthorn Tree in which she shares her experiences of raising her five children in Botswana, living in a lion conservation camp, and home-schooling them. Kate is currently running a homeschool business in Rome and is passionate about integrated education. She is also writing her second book.

Content Warning. This episode deals with sexual abuse and sexual violence.

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Naira Manzoor

“So you get respect when you are someone when you’re doing something, when you’re no one people forget you. They forget what you have done for them. They forget who you are, or they even forget what you have done in your past. So at that time, I learned that if I will not accept myself for who I am, if I will not respect myself for who I am, no one is going to do that. Because the world is very cruel. So you have to stand for yourself and you have to accept yourself for who you are.”

Naira Manzoor is from Kashmir currently living and working in Delhi. Naira says she is 24, feels like 65 but has the soul of a teenager. She loves books, deep talks, travel, singing, thinking and exploring life. Her life is focused around learning and she believes in being herself and refuses to change for anyone. Life is a journey, a taxing one and she says, I am up for it.

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Jude Hughes

“Let’s say now, you’re getting married. You’ve no relations to call on to come to your wedding. You’re aware of that at the time. Then when your first kid is born, you’ve nobody to ring up and tell –  aunts, uncles or anybody. Nobody to ring up. You have plenty of friends, which is great. But you could always feel the other person had all the wives, uncles, aunts to ring up, whereas I had none of that. Now, I thought about it, but I didn’t let it get under my skin. Because if you allowed things like that to get under your skin, you’d be seriously affected. And I wouldn’t let it affect me, because I still knew I had to survive and get on with my life.”

Jude Hughes was born in Dublin in 1941, to an unmarried Irish woman and a black man. He was initially told his father was from Trinidad. He spent his early life in St. Patrick’s mother and baby home. The rest of Jude’s childhood was spent in institutions – first in a convent, and later in an industrial school, where he learned a trade. Growing up in Ireland, he rarely saw another black person.

Linked to Jude’s story is the recent report of Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, released on 12th January 2021. The 3,000-page report details the conduct and survivors of religious institutions in Ireland. These institutions housed women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage. Most relevant to Jude is the policy of the institutions preventing him from tracing his parents, or as Jude says, being told that the information was ‘redacted’. Ireland denies adopted people the legal right to their own information and files. The report is understood to chronicle many of the lies and obfuscations of priests, nuns and officials.

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Seamus Beirne

“There still is an aspect of always having to come out, basically, because the status quo is that you’re straight. Therefore, in work and that kind of thing, there’s always a bit of friction there when you meet someone new who doesn’t know. You will end up telling them, you know, ‘at the weekend, what did you do?’. Oh, well, I was with my boyfriend or whatever. And there’s always going to be that, well, what are they gonna think about that? I mean, it’s not a problem, I suppose in the context of, British people, or Irish people nowadays. or anything like that. With people from countries where it’s not acceptable to be gay, I definitely do assign them. I’m maybe a little bit more worried. For example, in work if I had a colleague who was from somewhere where it’s not acceptable to be gay, to tell them about, you know what I did over the weekend with my boyfriend, because I may be a little bit more worried about what they might think.”

Seamus Beirne is 29 years old (30 next month). He lives in Oslo with his boyfriend. He works as a data analyst for a grocery delivery company.

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Anna Harrington

“And so, I was brought into this family, who already had two children. They were my parents’ biological children, two boys, very white. So, it was very interesting, when we would go out as a family. I would be stood there with classically sort of Pakistani colouring, you know, I have jet black hair. I have amazingly dark eyes, with my brothers and my parents who are blond and blue eyes. And it was, you know, it was quite amusing, really, because I could see people looking at us as a family, and questions going through their heads and said to say, what’s happened with the daughter, she looks a bit different.”

Anna Harrington grew up in the ’70s in a white, middle class area on the Pennines, an area juxtaposed to the multicultural population of Oldham. She is adopted and mixed race. She has both benefited from white privilege and experienced racism throughout her childhood. This has allowed her to viscerally recognise the effects of not fitting in and how the social environment influences behaviours. She now has her own business advising on how to enable employees to be productive and thrive through work.

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Hári Sewell

“And I walked away thinking, this kind of dominant view as a man, that if you have an encounter, that you have to kind of become this alpha male who’s gonna kick butt. Even though I spend a lot of work on myself trying to remove the idea that violence is the way to solve problems and so forth. That, in that challenge, I couldn’t just say to the guy, well, actually, given the choice, I’ll always sidestep an opportunity to engage in violence as the kind of dominant way in which people settle their disputes. I just defaulted back into that.”

Hári Sewell is founder and Director of HS Consultancy and is a former executive director of health and social care in the NHS. He is a writer and speaker in his specialist area of social justice, equalities and ethnicity, race and culture in mental health. Hári is honorary Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire and Specialist Guest Lecturer at University of Bradford.  Hári has had various books, articles and book chapters published, with new material emerging regularly.

Hári has a reputation for being a strong communicator. He is a nationally and internationally recognised trainer on critical race theory, unconscious bias, leading diverse organisations and teams and issues of equality and social justice.

Hári worked with another local campaigner to secure services for survivors of sexual violence and currently runs a campaign “Men Supporting Women’s Rights” including “Men Against Rape”. He is increasingly studying forms of masculinity and the possibilities in practice and employee relations to recognise the intersections between masculinity and other aspects of identity.

www.hsconsultancy.org.uk
Linkedin

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Teremoana Rapley

“I didn’t write politically conscious songs or songs that talked about the skin colour of my first child. I didn’t write those things, saying, I’m going to change the world, and this is how I’m going to do it. I wrote those songs, because that’s the way that I felt, like everything that I do with my music. There’s not a disconnection, and it’s just a focus on ‘how can I market and get my music out’. I write my music the way that I feel. And that’s all it is. Because my music is an expression of how I feel as a distinction. It’s not a commodity to be packaged up. And that’s what was happening when I was 19, when ‘role model’ was put on me as a label. The media and the industry infrastructure were trying to craft me into the person that they thought that I should be because I was a brown woman, I was rapping writing my own songs.”

Teremoana Rapley currently works as a senior creative economy advisor for the local government cultural and economic development agency, Auckland Unlimited in New Zealand. She is a stalwart of the music industry as an award-winning singer songwriter. She stepped into the industry at the age of 14 with politically conscious rap group Upper Hutt Posse and was inducted into the country’s music hall of fame in 2018. She has worked in indigenous broadcast for over two decades gaining over 3000 production credits as an executive producer and many production roles. Teremoana has worked in a community action and development space for the past 30 years with her latest co-created social change initiative focussing on intergenerational and intercultural place-based community building using the arts as the connector.

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Season 2

Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor, author of 20 books, former Under Secretary General of the United Nations, current Member of Parliament of Trivandrum, Kerala and my brother.

“You are different – your accent speaks of privilege. Foreign living and foreign exposure, and therefore you’re not authentically one of us is what some people think. Accent can be used to separate people from the person noticing the accent.”

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Ghida Ibrahim

Dr. Ghida Ibrahim is a global citizen with many hats; a technologist, a data scientist, a tech for good entrepreneur, a community builder, a lecturer, a speaker who has appeared on TEDx, a World Economic Forum appointed domain expert and an occasional standup comedian.

“If you’re able to speak many languages, this means that you’re able to live many lives, or be immersed in many identities” “Be the best version of yourself and then the world will adjust to you eventually”.

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David-Knaus
David Knaus is a collector and patron: focused on photography and contemporary arts – he works actively with photographers consulting on the placement of their archives so their work is both preserved and publicity accessible.
“I mean, I say to people in this country, you know, not everybody who voted for Trump is an idiot. There were a lot of smart people who voted for the guy, just look at the numbers. You look in London with Brexit, a lot of smart educated people voted for Boris Johnson. And I don’t think you can dismiss that.”

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Bhasha Mukherjee
“I remember going into the Miss England competition being told by my organisers, just go take part – the Asian girls never do well. And I basically got told you’re not going to win because the Asian girls don’t do well. And I remember being at the competition and confirming this bias. “
Bhasha Mukherjee is the reigning Miss England and NHS  front line worker in the battle against the Covid 19 pandemic.

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Aditya-Atri

In early September of 2019, Aditya Atri was defined by what he did for a living, what car he drove, what were his origins, what was his status in society. Post late September 2019, it is about Aditya Atri who has cancer, who should be looked at differently. He is a patient and expected to behave in a certain manner, that is defined by the biases people have about what a cancer patient should look like. How should a cancer patient behave? Are you defined by your cancer?

Aditya Atri has over 30 years’ experience as an advertising and marketing executive He has managed large consumer facing programmes and campaigns for both local and multinational brands across South Asia, Middle East and Australia. He has held leadership positions across financial services, retail and marketing communication companies.

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Matt Henderson

“I guess I could see unconscious bias in other people’s ideas of a Muslim. You could be White, Asian, Black, you could be from any type of background. It’s a religion, like other religions where you choose to become a Muslim and fall in that religion. People make a lot of assumptions, on what a Muslim looks like. It could be anyone.”

Matt Henderson is originally from Scotland and lives in Yorkshire. With over 20 years’ experience as a community worker, Matt is currently working as a project manager for Bradford for Everyone, a UK Government social integration pilot programme.

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Seema Anand

Content Warning: This episode deals with material of a sexual nature.

“The Kama Sutra was written in metaphors. And it talks about pleasure so delicately and with such elegance and refinement that it actually inspired about 2000 years of ancient Indian literature.”

Seema Anand is a mythologist and a storyteller with a focus on women’s narratives and a specialty in the erotic literature’s of ancient India. Seema believes that the narrative of the Kama Sutra was deliberately silenced. This was the first text to give women a platform of equality.
Seema Anand is also the author of The Arts of Seduction.

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Rosemary Cronin

“A lot of the young people that I work with, see themselves in a troubled state. But the minute they start engaging with something positive, they have an identity shift, they start to position themselves as an artist. And that takes them away from what they perceive themselves to be in the past. We can all create these identity shifts, but it’s about just taking that one positive step and having a reinforced positive loop to keep going.”

Rosemary Jane Cronin is an artist and university lecturer specialising in fine art, gender and psychoanalysis who has exhibited and performed at The Freud Museum and The National Portrait Gallery in London. Her film Reverie was selected by the Guggenheim Foundation as part of their ‘Under the Same Sun’ season in 2016. As an educator, Rosemary works for the Outreach department at University of Arts London and museums and galleries across London to help make art accessible for all.

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Reza Beyad

“When I pray five times a day, it’s interesting that the way I start my prayers, I refer to God, as the God of all creation. I don’t say the God of Muslims ,I say the God of all creation which includes everyone on Earth. So that’s part of my faith. And that’s why I feel that my faith underpins and underlines the way I behave, and I interact with people.”

Reza Beyad is a multilingual entrepreneur, philanthropist and fundraiser. He’s a practising Muslim who completed his schooling from a Jesuit school. One of his main interests is to engage in constructive interfaith dialogues and help build bridges between different faiths and communities. His own faith underpins his efforts to create a more caring, just and inclusive society. In 2014, for his work in this regard, he was given the freedom of the City of London.

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Suvir Saran

“In 2017/2018 I opened a restaurant called Tapestry in New York City that served food from 17 or 18 countries at one time on the menu. And people loved it. It was in the West Village. And we had the who’s who of New York coming to eat with us. But there were certain food critics that were absent. And I then got an email from one food critic who said to me, don’t you think you’re being too daring that you’re cooking something other than Indian? And I asked them, do you ask this question to all the American chefs born and brought up in America, who are cooking French, Italian, Vietnamese, Mexican and Indian? Do you question them about the cuisine they are cooking?”

Suvir Saran is the author of three celebrated cookbooks: Indian Home Cooking, American Masala, and Masala Farm, as well as the chef and owner of The House of Celeste, a modern Indian restaurant in Gurgaon.
Saran’s approachable style has helped demystify Indian cuisine and earned him the first Michelin star awarded to an Indian restaurant in America.

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ifrah Ahmend

“Others conspire that if you’re not cut, you are not clean, nobody will marry you. You are not going to be the same as other girls. You’re going to school and you feel like you’re different. Because you are not cut. That is why I am an activist and campaigner on female genital mutilation.”

Ifrah Ahmed is an Irish-Somali activist, campaigner and Civil Society Organisation director working in the field of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting abandonment. She has also set up the United Youth of Ireland in 2008, in response to youth immigrant integration issues in her adopted country.

The Ifrah Foundation is working with the UN for the worldwide eradication of FGM/C by 2030.

A feature film, A Girl from Mogadishu, based on her life is out now.

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Season 1

Vidya Balan

For Episode 1 of Stories of  Unconscious Bias, join Smita Tharoor in a conversation with Bollywood actor Vidya Balan.

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Anthony Loyd
Episode 2 of Stories of Unconscious Bias, join Smita Tharoor in conversation with  award winning war correspondent of The Times, Anthony Loyd.
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Anthony Loyd
In part two, Anthony Loyd speaks of his experience discovering Shamima Begum in a refugee camp in Syria. “The worst moment for me was of realising how much the focus of rage – for conscious and unconscious bias – that she became to this society.”
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Brendan Gilbert

Brendan Gilbert is a born and bred Londoner of West Indian Heritage, who runs a security systems company based in South London.

“We’re all human beings you know, let’s just get on. And I think that’s where I kind of say brush it off, but be able to keep going.”

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Nitin Sawhney

Nitin Sawhney is a CBE, a composer, producer, and multifaceted polymath who engages with the arts in every conceivable way through the filter of music.

“The colour of my skin marked me out as it didn’t matter whether I was an immigrant or from immigrant heritage, it was the colour of my skin that they saw and attacked, which is why I wrote an album called Beyond skin rather than beyond heritage or beyond anything else. It was actually the fact that your skin colour will be the first thing that people encounter or will see.”

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Cheryl Hernandez

Cheryl Hernandez is an executive trainer, life coach, author and international  speaker from Trinidad & Tobago who has spent over 40 years helping clients to improve their personal and professional relationships – from CEOs to teenagers. Formerly a music teacher and ordained minister, Cheryl is known for her ability to turn difficult students and employees around.

“And one thing about our culture that makes it a little challenging for us when we come abroad and places like the UK and the US, some of the biases and the discrimination goes straight over our heads, because we’re not accustomed to it.”

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AJ Juer

AJ Juer is a transgender guy living in New Zealand. He’s currently based in Christchurch, where he studied at the National Academy of singing and Dramatic Art. AJ has a degree in performing arts, and is now pursuing a career as an actor.

“I accepted transgender people, but in my head, and this was something that I wouldn’t say to anyone, I sort of thought, Oh, isn’t that weak to change your body like, shouldn’t you accept your own body.”

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Nandita Das

Nandita Das is an actor and director and has acted in more than 40 feature films in 10 different languages. Nandita has been passionately supporting the campaign against colour bias, ‘India’s Got Colour’. She was conferred the ‘Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters’ by the French Government and was the first Indian to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the International Women’s Forum.

“The minute I would do the role of an educated woman, an affluent person, I will immediately be told either by the director or the camera person or the makeup person that I know you don’t like to lighten your skin. But just for this, could you, because this is an educated open character.”

The charity Nandita supports “India’s Got Colour

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Neena Uluru

Neena Bhandari has been a career journalist for over three decades. She has worked in India, the UK and Australia, writing on a range of issues from Health and Science to Environment and Development, gender and human rights to travel and indigenous issues.

I was at an international conference and had a very interesting conversation with one of the speakers who had walked up to my table. But when I met him outside at the end of the conference, he was shocked with disbelief on his face when he saw me walking with a caliper because he had no idea that I had a disability.

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giles duley

Giles Duley is a documentary photographer and storyteller, whose work focuses on the long term impact of conflict. Giles is also the CEO of the charity, Legacy of War foundation.

I was injured in 2011 while working in Afghanistan. I stepped on a landmine and lost my legs and my arm. I was 39 years old when that happened. And I went from being a white, privileged, middle class English man who travelled the world who had a very privileged position( and I was aware of that) to somebody who’s living with a very serious disability. And it was interesting because I suddenly saw how the world treated me differently.

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Lemn Sissay

Google the name “Lemn Sissay” and all the returning hits will be about him because there is only one Lemn Sissay in the world. Lemn Sissay is a BAFTA nominated award winning writer, international poet, performer playwright, artist and broadcaster and Chancellor of The University of Manchester . Lemn Sissay was awarded an MBE for services to literature.

“What happened to me is that because of unconscious bias, I was stolen from my mother, I was stolen from my family. I was brought up in institutions, with foster parents who I believe, had a lot of unconscious biases towards people of colour.”

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Stories of Unconscious Bias with Smita Tharoor

We take our upbringing for granted and it was only with the benefit of hindsight I realised how lucky I was. Growing up in pluralistic India taught me the value of tolerance and the appreciation of accepting differences.

I arrived in London after my undergraduate degree in the 80’s with a firm sense of my own identity and a belief that the world is an accepting inclusive place. It was only through sharing stories that I began to realise that I truly had an accepting, liberal, non-judgemental, secular upbringing. There was very little in my backpack that was influencing me unconsciously. I was very fortuitous.

We are defined by our narrative, our personal story, our experiences. These have an impact on how we make judgements and form opinions. A lot of time that’s just fine but every once in a while, we make snap conclusions that have a negative outcome either for the other person or ourselves. Just one particular experience can lead to a lifelong belief. 

Knowledge is power, and I firmly believe through learning and reflecting we can effect positive change.

Since starting my own company Tharoor Associates in 2009, I have had the privilege of hearing some wonderful stories from different parts of the world. These stories were all shared in the context of understanding our Unconscious Bias. As I heard them, I realised that other than some obvious cultural differences, we all have very similar experiences. I wanted to share these stories with a wider audience, so I decided to have podcasts on the unconscious bias.

I have had the huge privilege of talking to a wide range of people around the world from California to New Zealand to Bombay with London in the middle. They share their stories and how those experiences have impacted on their unconscious biases. They tell us, the listener, what they learned from those experiences.  

To begin a real process of change, we have to look at our own Unconscious Bias and move away from these potentially damaging patterns of behaviour. Assumptions are internal; we carry them around like a backpack on our back. Before any change can be made in any relationship, we need to look into our backpacks.

I do hope that these stories will resonate with you and will help you the listener reflect and look into your backpack. Happy Listening.

Season 5

“Even at that stage, I had no idea of autism. So I might go to the nursery, something as simple as driving a different route. And he would scream and be so distressed. I’d have to drag him out of the car and take him into the nursery. And hey wouldn’t understand why he was so upset. And everyone else would just go ‘Oh he’s two, he’s having a tantrum’. And those comments used to grate and eat me up inside. I think weirdly my unconscious bias, it’s a double edged sword, because part of my unconscious bias was going, you’re doing something wrong. But the other side was, I knew something wasn’t right as well. I just didn’t know what it was. I didn’t have the language or the knowledge to translate all these points he was struggling with.”

 

Matt Davis lives in London with his wife, Eliza and two children, Isaac and Tabitha.

13-year-old Isaac is autistic and was diagnosed with autism at age 3.

Matt writes a blog about this journey and shares his thoughts and feelings at mysonisaac.net

Matt is a Trustee of Autistica and Parent Patron and business ambassador for Ambitious About Autism.

He is also a partner at Red Brick Road, an advertising agency in London.

 

“Women have not been allowed to move out of the house, or even have a professional carrier. Not at all, because that was according to the ruling system of Taliban. That led to a mentality being created unconsciously within me, that whenever I was thinking of a woman, there has been a word associated to that. And that word associated to women is the word ‘dependent’. And whenever I was thinking of being a woman, the first thing that I could think of was being an dependent individual, or a dependent human being. Who is fed by a man, who works day and night at home, but at the same time, is not rewarded like a man.”

At age 27, Hosna Jalil was the first woman appointed to a high Interior Ministry post in Afghanistan. She held the post of Deputy for Policy and Strategic Affairs and later Deputy for Women Affairs. Until the age of nine she lived under the Taliban regime, not being allowed to attend school. Despite this she went on to achieve a BA in Physics before completing a master’s degree in Business Management at the American University of Afghanistanan. Hosna is an independent, feminine, wandering soul.

 

“I think it’s true for everyone who was around in the 60s and 70s, and even into the 80s. That there were cultural jokes. There were jokes around particular groups of people, or particular races, or particular colours, or particular religions. And we thought nothing of telling those jokes. In fact, it was a way of bonding with, in inverted commas, “like minded people”. That we could pick on a race or a culture or an affliction, or a personality trait or something. You could pick on something. And you could make jokes about it over and over and over and over again. And the level to which that reinforces something.”
Maria Arpa is the founder of the Centre for Peaceful Solutions and the executive director at The Centre for Non-Violent Communication. She has dedicated the last 20 years of her life promoting non-violent communication as an alternative to mainstream systems of domination culture. Through her career, Maria has worked in some of the most violent areas of the UK and the USA, including with families, in schools and workplaces, within neighbourhoods and in prisons.

“Even in our [Indian] education system, when we grow up, we are told these are the answers. Suddenly, you go abroad and study, and your faculty member asks you, what do you think? And the first thing that comes to your mind is like, what do you mean, what do I thin? You’re supposed to tell me what’s right. So when you get to this point in this profession, where there are no boundaries. You tend to start looking inwards. And you really start to question, what are the things that I value? What do I believe is right? And eventually, even your audience doesn’t matter. Because you present your truth. And what you’re saying is, this is what works for me, if you like it fine. If you don’t like it also fine, I respect that.”

Papa CJ is an award-winning, international stand-up comedian. He has performed over 2000 shows in over 25 countries. Forbes Magazine called him ‘the global face of Indian stand-up’ and Harvard Business Review called him ‘one of the most influential comedians around the world’. He has won awards for both Asia and India’s best stand-up comedian. He is also a motivational speaker and corporate training coach.

 

Season 4

Amish Tripathi

Amish is a diplomat, author and columnist. He is currently  the Director of The Nehru Centre in London, the cultural wing of the Indian High Commission.

Amish has been listed among the 50 most powerful Indians by India Today magazine in 2019. Forbes India has regularly ranked Amish among the top 100 most influential celebrities in India. Amish was also selected as an Eisenhower Fellow, a prestigious American programme for outstanding leaders from around the world, in 2014.

Amish published his first book in 2010, and has written 9 books till date. His books have sold 5.5 million copies, and have been translated into 10 Indian and 9 international languages.

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Eliza Griswold

Eliza Griswold, a contributing writer for the New Yorker, is a poet and journalist who was awarded the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for her book Amity and Prosperity. She’s a distinguished writer in residence at New York University and lives between New York and Philadelphia with her husband and son.

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Robin Shohet

Robin Shohet started his therapeutic career in 1976 working in a residential therapeutic community with people who had come out of psychiatric hospitals. He left in 1979 to work freelance as a therapist, supervisor and trainer. He is the author and editor of several books, the latest co-written with his wife, Joan, called In Love with Supervision: Creating Transformative Conversations. He is a student of A Course in Miracles, a book that has had a profound influence on his life.

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Jonah Batambuze is a Ugandan-American, multidisciplinary creative, and founder of a community for Black and South Asian people called the Blindian Project.

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Jaishree Misra is an author of Indian origin living in Britain. She has written eight novels published by Penguin and Harper Collins. She has also written a non-fiction account of building a writer’s studio on the beach in her home state of Kerala, India. She is a postgraduate in English Literature from Kerala University and has two diplomas from the University of London, one in Broadcast Journalism and the other in Special Education. She has worked in special education, journalism and as a film classifier at the British Board of Film Classification. She lives in London with her husband and daughter. Her daughter, Rohini, is a woman with special needs and specific difficulties with language and communication.

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Indira Kaura Ahluwalia

Indira Kaur Ahluwalia is an activist and entrepreneur turned advisor, coach, and now an author. She’s worked in federal government contracting, particularly international development, to build equity, accountability, and sustainability.

As Indira fulfilled her life’s passions and professional obligations, she was diagnosed with stage IV advanced breast cancer with bone metastasis at age 38. Her fight, and the lessons she learned, led her to write Fast Forward to Hope: Choosing to Build the Power of Self — a memoir to enable others to face and walk beyond their own issues.

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Emeka Onwubiko was the first Nigerian-born footballer to play for the Republic of Ireland and wear the Irish jersey. Today, Emeka is a UEFA Certified Coach coaching inspiring young football players.
On the weekend of May 1st, 2021 a number of football organisations in England are going silent on social media to highlight increasing levels of racist abuse on social media platforms.

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Andrew Feinstein is a former African National Congress (ANC) Member of Parliament who served in South Africa under Nelson Mandela. He resigned in protest in 2001 at the ruling party’s refusal to allow an unfettered investigation into a massively corrupt $10bn arms deal. He is an author of the critically-acclaimed The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade which reveals the corruption at the heart of the global arms business. He is also a film-maker and campaigner on the damage wrought by the global arms trade, and Executive Director of the London-based non-profit Shadow World Investigations. Andrew is the son of a Holocaust survivor and is married to Simone, a Bangladeshi woman, with whom he has two children.

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“When I came [to the UK], I realised in the last 16 years – it’s a gradual realisation of my own unconscious bias, of trying to be perfect. Trying to be this woman who puts on dinner at the right time, for everyone. But also who appears beautiful, intelligent, all those things. And only a few years ago, actually through the exposure of  feminism movements here [in the UK]. I have began to ask myself why? Why do I want to be perfect? Is it because men want me to be like this? Or is this from my own standards? And where did this standards come from? So actually, from quite a few years back, my New Year’s resolution to myself has stayed the same. Try not to be perfect.”
Dr Yan Wang Preston is a British-Chinese artist interested in the connections between landscape, ecology, identity and migration. She has specialised in conducting long-term projects that are demanding both physically and intellectually. For example, she photographed the entire 6,211km Yangtze River in China at precise 100km intervals for her Mother River project. Yan has published two photo books, ‘Mother River’ and ‘Forest’ with Hatje Cantz. She holds a PhD in Photography and lectures at the University of Huddersfield.

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“The fact that we have female body parts that are named after European men. This idea that the G-spot was named after Ernst Grafenberg in the 1950s, the Fallopian tubes, again named after a man, the Skene’s glands. And this is because the Europeans have done a very good job of documenting their findings, but they are new findings to them. They’ll document it, and then it’s disseminated across the board as if this is the standard for everyone to adopt. And anyone that that might have “discovered” this prior to the events are dismissed. So when I’ve written proposals for some sex journals about my research, about like, the Kunyaza tradition, and eastern Africa and their practises, they understand of sex and sexuality. Many times they don’t want to hear it unless I’m speaking about female genital mutilation”

Habeeb Akande is a sex educator, author and historian. His work explores an ancient African sexual practice for women’s satisfaction, which he believes can close the gender pleasure gap. His work also covers race relations and sexual intimacy in Brazil and Muslim cultures. Habeeb is the author of the Amazon bestselling book Kunyaza: The Secret to Female Pleasure, which was featured in the BBC documentary, The Orgasm Gap. Habeeb aims to present a positive representation of African cultures and sexually empower women with culturally-competent sex education.

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“Important in, in my sort of evolution, was that when you’re at the bar, and you’re doing a case – and I was a sort of warrior on behalf of people who were often the underdog. There is a thing about doing a case is that you would fight hammer and tongs with the person on the other side. But somehow, afterwards, you were still part of the same world, which was to preserve the rule of law. And so it was, it was one of the things that was an important part of maturing, was that you don’t, you don’t loathe the person who’s who’s on the other side. You have to find a way of having a proper discourse. There has to be some way in which you can cross that divide, if you want to make make any kind of progress.”
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC one of Britain’s most distinguished lawyers. She has spent her professional life giving voice to those who have least power within the system, championing civil liberties and promoting human rights.
In an interview from a few years ago, Helena was asked about her best and worst days of works. Successes like the release of Paul Hill, one of The Guildford Four, is a given, but what was moving and powerful was to hear Helena talk of supporting and winning cases such as the battered women who killed their husbands after years of abuse. Or perhaps the wife of the bomb plotter accused of failing to inform on her husband.
Helena has conducted many prominent cases of terrorism, official secrets and homicide. She is the founding force behind the establishment of the Bonavero Institute of Human Rights at the University of Oxford. In 1997, she was elevated to the House of Lords where she is a Labour peer.
She has published two books on how the justice system is failing women and has written and broadcasted on many issues over the years. Currently, she has taken on the role of Director to the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. She directs the Institute’s work upholding the rule of law and human rights globally.

 

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Season 3

William Dalrymple

“We were exactly the class which filled the Imperial hierarchy and could get a  place in the East India Company or in the Raj Civil Service.
It was a guy called Dalrymple who ended up in the black hole of Calcutta in 1756. And so generations have  been there one after another and like almost all the Brits, probably all the Brits whom I’d ever met, it was assumed that colonisation was an act of bringing civilisation to the poor benighted natives.”

William Dalrymple is a Scottish historian and writer, art historian and curator, as well as a broadcaster and critic. His books have won numerous awards and prizes including the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize to Thomas Cook travel Book Award, the SundayTimes young British writer of the Year Award, the Hemingway, the Kapuscinski and the Wolfson prize. He is also one of the co founders and co directors of the annual Jaipur Literary Festival.

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Katharine Birbalsingh

“What I’m saying is, is that because they’re not aware of their unconscious bias, they think they actually believe that what they’re doing is right. I mean, there are a lot of people who disagree with me, not just the people on the left or the right because many people refuse to recognise how complex racism is. People in the middle  recognise that racism isn’t just black and white, it’s actually far more complex. And it reveals itself unconsciously, in all kinds of ways, both on the right and on the left.  We tend to just think white people on the right are racist people and not people on the left as they are good. And I’m saying we should know what they’re doing is signalling virtue, they are not actually being virtuous.”

Katharine Birbalsingh is Headmistress and co-founder of Michaela Community School in Wembley, London. Michaela is known for its tough-love behaviour systems, knowledge curriculum and teaching of kindness and gratitude. In 2017, OFSTED the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills graded the school as “Outstanding” in every category. “

Katharine read Philosophy & Modern Languages at The University of Oxford and has always taught in inner London. She has made numerous appearances on television and radio and has written for several UK publications. Katharine has written two books and edited a third…. and a fourth called The Power of Culture which has just been published. Whether you agree with Katharine or not, she will make you think. In the 2020 Birthday Honours, Katherine was appointed CBE.

Follow Katharine on Twitter: @Miss_Snuffy

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Ken Mc Cue

“I think these kids are so privileged. I knew that they were all going to third level education, they’re going to be doctors and engineers.  Then I realised that the class structure was so profound  and right from the very get go, where those kids would have been in, you know, local creches or play schools while the Traveller (indigenous ethnic group) kids were living on the other side of the road.”

Ken Mc Cue is a graduate of the International School of Politics and Culture, Moscow. He holds a Master of Philosophy Diploma in Peace Studies from Trinity College Dublin and a PostGraduate Certificate in Cultural Planning from De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. Ken specialises in the area of Cultural Integration and Social Capital in Urban Regeneration. Ken is a card-carrying member of the Industrial Workers of the World and was officially declared an Atheist by the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland.

In 1997,  Ken co-founded Sports Against Racism Ireland SARI during the European Year against Racism.For more information check https://www.sari.ie/

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SP Rawal

“We were told that everyone was butchered, was literally butchered on the way to India. Now supposing we were there, what would happen? I think it made me more resilient. Subconsciously, having escaped death at such close quarters and at such a young age. It allows me to be a little more cavalier in my approach to life. Not careless, but carefree.”

SP Rawal was born in 1940 to a rich landowner in what is today, Punjab, Pakistan. At the age of seven, he was forced to go through the trauma of India’s partition, travelling as part of a caravan of bullock carts, staying at a refugee camp, and doing all sorts of menial jobs. Today, aged 80 he’s the chairman of a leading brokerage firm, dealing in arbitration support both nationally and internationally.

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Kate Nicholls

This is an extended two part episode. Part one is just under half an hour, followed by a brief segue into part two which is approximately twenty minutes. Please do listen to both!

“The other thing that was my unconscious bias, I’d always perceived myself as a strong womanI am a strong woman and I’ve coped with some pretty significant adversity in my life with pragmatism and a degree of humanity. But this one stripped me not only of my humanity, it stripped me of my motherhood, it stripped me of me. And that was very, very surprising. And I have come to understand why it is.”

Kate Nicholls is the author of Under the Camelthorn Tree in which she shares her experiences of raising her five children in Botswana, living in a lion conservation camp, and home-schooling them. Kate is currently running a homeschool business in Rome and is passionate about integrated education. She is also writing her second book.

Content Warning. This episode deals with sexual abuse and sexual violence.

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Naira Manzoor

“So you get respect when you are someone when you’re doing something, when you’re no one people forget you. They forget what you have done for them. They forget who you are, or they even forget what you have done in your past. So at that time, I learned that if I will not accept myself for who I am, if I will not respect myself for who I am, no one is going to do that. Because the world is very cruel. So you have to stand for yourself and you have to accept yourself for who you are.”

Naira Manzoor is from Kashmir currently living and working in Delhi. Naira says she is 24, feels like 65 but has the soul of a teenager. She loves books, deep talks, travel, singing, thinking and exploring life. Her life is focused around learning and she believes in being herself and refuses to change for anyone. Life is a journey, a taxing one and she says, I am up for it.

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Jude Hughes

“Let’s say now, you’re getting married. You’ve no relations to call on to come to your wedding. You’re aware of that at the time. Then when your first kid is born, you’ve nobody to ring up and tell –  aunts, uncles or anybody. Nobody to ring up. You have plenty of friends, which is great. But you could always feel the other person had all the wives, uncles, aunts to ring up, whereas I had none of that. Now, I thought about it, but I didn’t let it get under my skin. Because if you allowed things like that to get under your skin, you’d be seriously affected. And I wouldn’t let it affect me, because I still knew I had to survive and get on with my life.”

Jude Hughes was born in Dublin in 1941, to an unmarried Irish woman and a black man. He was initially told his father was from Trinidad. He spent his early life in St. Patrick’s mother and baby home. The rest of Jude’s childhood was spent in institutions – first in a convent, and later in an industrial school, where he learned a trade. Growing up in Ireland, he rarely saw another black person.

Linked to Jude’s story is the recent report of Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation, released on 12th January 2021. The 3,000-page report details the conduct and survivors of religious institutions in Ireland. These institutions housed women and girls who became pregnant outside marriage. Most relevant to Jude is the policy of the institutions preventing him from tracing his parents, or as Jude says, being told that the information was ‘redacted’. Ireland denies adopted people the legal right to their own information and files. The report is understood to chronicle many of the lies and obfuscations of priests, nuns and officials.

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Seamus Beirne

“There still is an aspect of always having to come out, basically, because the status quo is that you’re straight. Therefore, in work and that kind of thing, there’s always a bit of friction there when you meet someone new who doesn’t know. You will end up telling them, you know, ‘at the weekend, what did you do?’. Oh, well, I was with my boyfriend or whatever. And there’s always going to be that, well, what are they gonna think about that? I mean, it’s not a problem, I suppose in the context of, British people, or Irish people nowadays. or anything like that. With people from countries where it’s not acceptable to be gay, I definitely do assign them. I’m maybe a little bit more worried. For example, in work if I had a colleague who was from somewhere where it’s not acceptable to be gay, to tell them about, you know what I did over the weekend with my boyfriend, because I may be a little bit more worried about what they might think.”

Seamus Beirne is 29 years old (30 next month). He lives in Oslo with his boyfriend. He works as a data analyst for a grocery delivery company.

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Anna Harrington

“And so, I was brought into this family, who already had two children. They were my parents’ biological children, two boys, very white. So, it was very interesting, when we would go out as a family. I would be stood there with classically sort of Pakistani colouring, you know, I have jet black hair. I have amazingly dark eyes, with my brothers and my parents who are blond and blue eyes. And it was, you know, it was quite amusing, really, because I could see people looking at us as a family, and questions going through their heads and said to say, what’s happened with the daughter, she looks a bit different.”

Anna Harrington grew up in the ’70s in a white, middle class area on the Pennines, an area juxtaposed to the multicultural population of Oldham. She is adopted and mixed race. She has both benefited from white privilege and experienced racism throughout her childhood. This has allowed her to viscerally recognise the effects of not fitting in and how the social environment influences behaviours. She now has her own business advising on how to enable employees to be productive and thrive through work.

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Hári Sewell

“And I walked away thinking, this kind of dominant view as a man, that if you have an encounter, that you have to kind of become this alpha male who’s gonna kick butt. Even though I spend a lot of work on myself trying to remove the idea that violence is the way to solve problems and so forth. That, in that challenge, I couldn’t just say to the guy, well, actually, given the choice, I’ll always sidestep an opportunity to engage in violence as the kind of dominant way in which people settle their disputes. I just defaulted back into that.”

Hári Sewell is founder and Director of HS Consultancy and is a former executive director of health and social care in the NHS. He is a writer and speaker in his specialist area of social justice, equalities and ethnicity, race and culture in mental health. Hári is honorary Senior Visiting Fellow at the University of Central Lancashire and Specialist Guest Lecturer at University of Bradford.  Hári has had various books, articles and book chapters published, with new material emerging regularly.

Hári has a reputation for being a strong communicator. He is a nationally and internationally recognised trainer on critical race theory, unconscious bias, leading diverse organisations and teams and issues of equality and social justice.

Hári worked with another local campaigner to secure services for survivors of sexual violence and currently runs a campaign “Men Supporting Women’s Rights” including “Men Against Rape”. He is increasingly studying forms of masculinity and the possibilities in practice and employee relations to recognise the intersections between masculinity and other aspects of identity.

www.hsconsultancy.org.uk
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Teremoana Rapley

“I didn’t write politically conscious songs or songs that talked about the skin colour of my first child. I didn’t write those things, saying, I’m going to change the world, and this is how I’m going to do it. I wrote those songs, because that’s the way that I felt, like everything that I do with my music. There’s not a disconnection, and it’s just a focus on ‘how can I market and get my music out’. I write my music the way that I feel. And that’s all it is. Because my music is an expression of how I feel as a distinction. It’s not a commodity to be packaged up. And that’s what was happening when I was 19, when ‘role model’ was put on me as a label. The media and the industry infrastructure were trying to craft me into the person that they thought that I should be because I was a brown woman, I was rapping writing my own songs.”

Teremoana Rapley currently works as a senior creative economy advisor for the local government cultural and economic development agency, Auckland Unlimited in New Zealand. She is a stalwart of the music industry as an award-winning singer songwriter. She stepped into the industry at the age of 14 with politically conscious rap group Upper Hutt Posse and was inducted into the country’s music hall of fame in 2018. She has worked in indigenous broadcast for over two decades gaining over 3000 production credits as an executive producer and many production roles. Teremoana has worked in a community action and development space for the past 30 years with her latest co-created social change initiative focussing on intergenerational and intercultural place-based community building using the arts as the connector.

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Season 2

Shashi Tharoor

Shashi Tharoor, author of 20 books, former Under Secretary General of the United Nations, current Member of Parliament of Trivandrum, Kerala and my brother.

“You are different – your accent speaks of privilege. Foreign living and foreign exposure, and therefore you’re not authentically one of us is what some people think. Accent can be used to separate people from the person noticing the accent.”

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Ghida Ibrahim

Dr. Ghida Ibrahim is a global citizen with many hats; a technologist, a data scientist, a tech for good entrepreneur, a community builder, a lecturer, a speaker who has appeared on TEDx, a World Economic Forum appointed domain expert and an occasional standup comedian.

“If you’re able to speak many languages, this means that you’re able to live many lives, or be immersed in many identities” “Be the best version of yourself and then the world will adjust to you eventually”.

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David-Knaus
David Knaus is a collector and patron: focused on photography and contemporary arts – he works actively with photographers consulting on the placement of their archives so their work is both preserved and publicity accessible.
“I mean, I say to people in this country, you know, not everybody who voted for Trump is an idiot. There were a lot of smart people who voted for the guy, just look at the numbers. You look in London with Brexit, a lot of smart educated people voted for Boris Johnson. And I don’t think you can dismiss that.”

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Bhasha Mukherjee
“I remember going into the Miss England competition being told by my organisers, just go take part – the Asian girls never do well. And I basically got told you’re not going to win because the Asian girls don’t do well. And I remember being at the competition and confirming this bias. “
Bhasha Mukherjee is the reigning Miss England and NHS  front line worker in the battle against the Covid 19 pandemic.

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Aditya-Atri

In early September of 2019, Aditya Atri was defined by what he did for a living, what car he drove, what were his origins, what was his status in society. Post late September 2019, it is about Aditya Atri who has cancer, who should be looked at differently. He is a patient and expected to behave in a certain manner, that is defined by the biases people have about what a cancer patient should look like. How should a cancer patient behave? Are you defined by your cancer?

Aditya Atri has over 30 years’ experience as an advertising and marketing executive He has managed large consumer facing programmes and campaigns for both local and multinational brands across South Asia, Middle East and Australia. He has held leadership positions across financial services, retail and marketing communication companies.

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Matt Henderson

“I guess I could see unconscious bias in other people’s ideas of a Muslim. You could be White, Asian, Black, you could be from any type of background. It’s a religion, like other religions where you choose to become a Muslim and fall in that religion. People make a lot of assumptions, on what a Muslim looks like. It could be anyone.”

Matt Henderson is originally from Scotland and lives in Yorkshire. With over 20 years’ experience as a community worker, Matt is currently working as a project manager for Bradford for Everyone, a UK Government social integration pilot programme.

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Seema Anand

Content Warning: This episode deals with material of a sexual nature.

“The Kama Sutra was written in metaphors. And it talks about pleasure so delicately and with such elegance and refinement that it actually inspired about 2000 years of ancient Indian literature.”

Seema Anand is a mythologist and a storyteller with a focus on women’s narratives and a specialty in the erotic literature’s of ancient India. Seema believes that the narrative of the Kama Sutra was deliberately silenced. This was the first text to give women a platform of equality.
Seema Anand is also the author of The Arts of Seduction.

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Rosemary Cronin

“A lot of the young people that I work with, see themselves in a troubled state. But the minute they start engaging with something positive, they have an identity shift, they start to position themselves as an artist. And that takes them away from what they perceive themselves to be in the past. We can all create these identity shifts, but it’s about just taking that one positive step and having a reinforced positive loop to keep going.”

Rosemary Jane Cronin is an artist and university lecturer specialising in fine art, gender and psychoanalysis who has exhibited and performed at The Freud Museum and The National Portrait Gallery in London. Her film Reverie was selected by the Guggenheim Foundation as part of their ‘Under the Same Sun’ season in 2016. As an educator, Rosemary works for the Outreach department at University of Arts London and museums and galleries across London to help make art accessible for all.

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Reza Beyad

“When I pray five times a day, it’s interesting that the way I start my prayers, I refer to God, as the God of all creation. I don’t say the God of Muslims ,I say the God of all creation which includes everyone on Earth. So that’s part of my faith. And that’s why I feel that my faith underpins and underlines the way I behave, and I interact with people.”

Reza Beyad is a multilingual entrepreneur, philanthropist and fundraiser. He’s a practising Muslim who completed his schooling from a Jesuit school. One of his main interests is to engage in constructive interfaith dialogues and help build bridges between different faiths and communities. His own faith underpins his efforts to create a more caring, just and inclusive society. In 2014, for his work in this regard, he was given the freedom of the City of London.

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Suvir Saran

“In 2017/2018 I opened a restaurant called Tapestry in New York City that served food from 17 or 18 countries at one time on the menu. And people loved it. It was in the West Village. And we had the who’s who of New York coming to eat with us. But there were certain food critics that were absent. And I then got an email from one food critic who said to me, don’t you think you’re being too daring that you’re cooking something other than Indian? And I asked them, do you ask this question to all the American chefs born and brought up in America, who are cooking French, Italian, Vietnamese, Mexican and Indian? Do you question them about the cuisine they are cooking?”

Suvir Saran is the author of three celebrated cookbooks: Indian Home Cooking, American Masala, and Masala Farm, as well as the chef and owner of The House of Celeste, a modern Indian restaurant in Gurgaon.
Saran’s approachable style has helped demystify Indian cuisine and earned him the first Michelin star awarded to an Indian restaurant in America.

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ifrah Ahmend

“Others conspire that if you’re not cut, you are not clean, nobody will marry you. You are not going to be the same as other girls. You’re going to school and you feel like you’re different. Because you are not cut. That is why I am an activist and campaigner on female genital mutilation.”

Ifrah Ahmed is an Irish-Somali activist, campaigner and Civil Society Organisation director working in the field of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting abandonment. She has also set up the United Youth of Ireland in 2008, in response to youth immigrant integration issues in her adopted country.

The Ifrah Foundation is working with the UN for the worldwide eradication of FGM/C by 2030.

A feature film, A Girl from Mogadishu, based on her life is out now.

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Season 1

Vidya Balan

For Episode 1 of Stories of  Unconscious Bias, join Smita Tharoor in a conversation with Bollywood actor Vidya Balan.

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Anthony Loyd
Episode 2 of Stories of Unconscious Bias, join Smita Tharoor in conversation with  award winning war correspondent of The Times, Anthony Loyd.
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Anthony Loyd
In part two, Anthony Loyd speaks of his experience discovering Shamima Begum in a refugee camp in Syria. “The worst moment for me was of realising how much the focus of rage – for conscious and unconscious bias – that she became to this society.”
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Brendan Gilbert

Brendan Gilbert is a born and bred Londoner of West Indian Heritage, who runs a security systems company based in South London.

“We’re all human beings you know, let’s just get on. And I think that’s where I kind of say brush it off, but be able to keep going.”

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Nitin Sawhney

Nitin Sawhney is a CBE, a composer, producer, and multifaceted polymath who engages with the arts in every conceivable way through the filter of music.

“The colour of my skin marked me out as it didn’t matter whether I was an immigrant or from immigrant heritage, it was the colour of my skin that they saw and attacked, which is why I wrote an album called Beyond skin rather than beyond heritage or beyond anything else. It was actually the fact that your skin colour will be the first thing that people encounter or will see.”

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Cheryl Hernandez

Cheryl Hernandez is an executive trainer, life coach, author and international  speaker from Trinidad & Tobago who has spent over 40 years helping clients to improve their personal and professional relationships – from CEOs to teenagers. Formerly a music teacher and ordained minister, Cheryl is known for her ability to turn difficult students and employees around.

“And one thing about our culture that makes it a little challenging for us when we come abroad and places like the UK and the US, some of the biases and the discrimination goes straight over our heads, because we’re not accustomed to it.”

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AJ Juer

AJ Juer is a transgender guy living in New Zealand. He’s currently based in Christchurch, where he studied at the National Academy of singing and Dramatic Art. AJ has a degree in performing arts, and is now pursuing a career as an actor.

“I accepted transgender people, but in my head, and this was something that I wouldn’t say to anyone, I sort of thought, Oh, isn’t that weak to change your body like, shouldn’t you accept your own body.”

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Nandita Das

Nandita Das is an actor and director and has acted in more than 40 feature films in 10 different languages. Nandita has been passionately supporting the campaign against colour bias, ‘India’s Got Colour’. She was conferred the ‘Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters’ by the French Government and was the first Indian to be inducted into the Hall of Fame at the International Women’s Forum.

“The minute I would do the role of an educated woman, an affluent person, I will immediately be told either by the director or the camera person or the makeup person that I know you don’t like to lighten your skin. But just for this, could you, because this is an educated open character.”

The charity Nandita supports “India’s Got Colour

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Neena Uluru

Neena Bhandari has been a career journalist for over three decades. She has worked in India, the UK and Australia, writing on a range of issues from Health and Science to Environment and Development, gender and human rights to travel and indigenous issues.

I was at an international conference and had a very interesting conversation with one of the speakers who had walked up to my table. But when I met him outside at the end of the conference, he was shocked with disbelief on his face when he saw me walking with a caliper because he had no idea that I had a disability.

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giles duley

Giles Duley is a documentary photographer and storyteller, whose work focuses on the long term impact of conflict. Giles is also the CEO of the charity, Legacy of War foundation.

I was injured in 2011 while working in Afghanistan. I stepped on a landmine and lost my legs and my arm. I was 39 years old when that happened. And I went from being a white, privileged, middle class English man who travelled the world who had a very privileged position( and I was aware of that) to somebody who’s living with a very serious disability. And it was interesting because I suddenly saw how the world treated me differently.

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Lemn Sissay

Google the name “Lemn Sissay” and all the returning hits will be about him because there is only one Lemn Sissay in the world. Lemn Sissay is a BAFTA nominated award winning writer, international poet, performer playwright, artist and broadcaster and Chancellor of The University of Manchester . Lemn Sissay was awarded an MBE for services to literature.

“What happened to me is that because of unconscious bias, I was stolen from my mother, I was stolen from my family. I was brought up in institutions, with foster parents who I believe, had a lot of unconscious biases towards people of colour.”

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8 Comments

  • Jyotika Diggi

    Superb,candid,clear and most women would relate immediately to what was being discussed

  • Mahesh Menon

    Quite thought-provoking – to listen and reflect on the common theme of hidden bias through the diverse and gripping stories across different contexts – cultural, gender, work… looking forward to the future episodes 👍

  • It’s been really fascinating listening to this series. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the range of perspectives presented, and this week you’ve done Trinidad. My birthplace! So pleased to see hear a Caribbean voice add our 2 cents. It’s been a real eye opener seeing the similarities and differences between the interviewees’ experiences, and then comparing each to my own experience. I especially like how Smita Tharoor summarises the comments and almost underlines the bias and thinking that triggers it. A truly thought provoking podcast. I need Ms Tharoor in my head doing some underlining whenever my biases rear their ugly heads.

  • Insightful, engaging and captivating series of conversations that would interest any and everyone. Highly recommend.

  • Debashis Paul

    I would recommend to all that you take time out to listen to the series ….Aditya Atri ,a successful corporate executive now dealing with cancer – his remarkable attitude comes through his words , so thought provoking and raises the issue of hidden biases to another dimension as he narrates his interface with medical treatment ….thank you Smita Tharoor and Aditya !

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