On Monday, Starbucks Canada closed their stores for Anti-Bias training, and I was on the radio again to speak about it; this time with Alan Neal at CBC Ottawa’s All in a Day.
What strikes me the most about conversations regarding bias is that we tend to focus on behaviours and individuals. This makes sense because – as we see in this case with Starbucks – this is one of the ways bias manifests. But there is much more to it that we miss if we stay and stop there.
Because bias is systemic.
Bias is Systemic
That means it’s literally part of the fabric of society. We receive messages about who has more and less value every day – through media, in choice of words, but also through representation (and lack thereof). We move through our day governed by policies, rules, and often laws, that work for some and disregard the realities of others. It is because of all of this that we don’t recognize that we are discriminating, seeing someone as less than, assigning people roles, putting them in boxes, or disregarding or overlooking them completely.
Systemic bias is the invisible fence that keeps some people in, and others out; which keeps certain people on one side, and certain people on the other side.
How Bias Manifests – a story
Which leads me to a story: After school my daughter was playing with two friends. Both boys, both Black like her. One boy was the manager. Everyone had to call him “sir”. And when I asked my child what she was, she told me she was the cashier. The cashier! She has a mother who is an entrepreneur. And she is the cashier?!
Look around. We learn by representation. Representation tells a story about what is possible and for whom. And that is informed by the value we assign people. Which is informed by bias, and becomes systemic over time. So much so that we perpetuate it because we think that’s the way it is: that someone else’s truth about us, or about others is actually True.
History (particularly colonization) and whose perspective we get/who gets to tell the stories of history plays a large role in the creation of these truths.
So, how about the System?
Coincidentally I was stopped at an intersection yesterday on my Bixi bicycle in downtown Toronto. A conversation caught my attention. A woman was speaking with two fundraisers who had approached her. Her issue, from what I could tell, was why they were approaching individuals on the street for money, when corporations were making millions of dollars. “How about the system?” is what she was saying.
So that’s my question for today.
How about the system?
What are we doing to address the way bias informs the systems we live and work in, creating access for some and barriers for others?
What are we doing to disrupt the stories we are told about ourselves and others?
How are we breaking out of the boxes that have been created for people – that keep them small, in “their place” and limit possibility and opportunity…all the while telling them that this is all there is?
What is your organization doing to address the way bias informs your policies, practices and representation?