I was reading an article by Deborah Orr in the Guardian the other day. She was talking about her reaction to the Bill Cosby saga wherein she suggests Bill Cosby’s behaviour will be seen as letting the side down for black people. She goes on to question and challenge herself on why his being black has anything to do with his behaviour.
This got me thinking. Do we continue to have an inherent bias within us when we choose to define people by their difference when it isn’t relevant to the conversation? My eldest son taught me that when I met his friend Ben. Ben is a lovely guy – I’m very fond of him. He’s spent Christmas with us one year and is liked by all the family. I’ve known him for four years. Yet it was only a few months ago that just by chance, I learned that Ben is gay. Does that make a difference to my relationship with him? No. Is it relevant information in any way at all? No. Yet, most of us would have described Ben as “my gay friend Ben”. The fact that my son never did that is what taught me how easy it is for us to define others by their difference when it isn’t relevant or necessary to the conversation. Ask yourselves how often have you done that? I know I have and continue to do so but I am working on it.
That’s not to say that you can’t tell the person looking for me in a sea of white faces, that I am the Indian in the room. That would be very helpful for the person looking for me! It’s about figuring out when we need to announce an individual’s difference.
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; they come from within us and before any external change can be made in a company’s culture, they need to be understood.
We must unlearn our current beliefs and relearn new ones. If there are no suitable role models in our surrounding environment, we have to create our own definition of what works for us. I’m using my 24 yr old son as a role model.