Bias and its Impact
This weekend I was thinking of two things – bias, and the impact of that. And it started with a trip to the grocery store.
Sometimes when I’m delivering a workshop I ask people to close their eyes and imagine something or someone.
Today I’m going to do that here. It will be a bit different of course, because you can’t close your eyes and read at the same time, but still I want you to read the next line and notice what images come to mind. Write it down if you want to. Ready?
When you think of a foodbank, what do the people look like who are there to get food? How did they find themselves in this situation? And are they single, married, or do they have children?
On Sunday I walked into the grocery store and right outside the door were volunteers saying “Happy Thanksgiving” and handing out paper bags for foodbank collection. Smart, I thought. Get people on the way in on a day when many are feeling thankful. Very good strategy. I took a bag. On it, there is printed writing that suggests some of the things you can purchase – canned vegetables and fruit, canned protein, baby formula.
I have a 6-year-old, so whenever I purchase things for the food bank (which, I’m embarrassed to say is not often) I usually focus on things for young children, so I headed to the baby food aisle. You can find some national statistics about who uses food banks (by age) here.
Food Bank Donation
But while I was heading to the baby food aisle, I passed the canned fish and chicken which were down the aisle from the “ethnic foods” (on a side note, I’m looking forward to the day when we can purchase Indian curry etc in an aisle that isn’t marked ethnic. Then we will have arrived closer to the idea of inclusion…). But I digress.
As I passed the prepared Indian food I realized the people in my imaginary foodbank were white: Until that moment, I had never considered buying something like a prepared paneer dish you just have to heat up to put into the food bank bag. So I had to stop. That made no sense, but there it was.
Here’s the thing, and it’s ridiculous but it’s a great example of how the brain wants to hold onto what it knows. I know that Mississauga (where I was, visiting my mom) has a high South Asian population. As does it’s neighbouring city Brampton. I also know, because of my work, that poverty in Canada has a colour.
The Colour of Poverty
The United Nations Report of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent on it’s mission to Canada (August 2017) states that:
- 25% of African Canadian women are living below the poverty line compared to 6% for white Canadian women.
- Black children living in poverty: 33% for those of Caribbean heritage, 47% for those with continental African heritage (compared to 18% for white children)
The Globe and Mail published an article that speaks to some of the issues that crossed my mind in the aisle this weekend.
There is also a Canadian website called the Colour of Poverty. They have up to date posts, but their fact sheets are dated. Still, I’m guessing that sadly their content is still relevant today.
Mental Associations in Action…
So what did I do?
Here’s a perfect example of how our brain makes mental associations and holds onto them even in the face of knowledge or evidence to the contrary; I bought baby food, canned soup and canned chicken. I passed the paneer. Why? Because my thought was: What if no one wants it?
Can you believe it?!
I know about the statistics above and the colour of poverty.
The Globe and Mail article did not surprise me: my mother’s neighbours have recently immigrated from Syria, and so I hear personal stories.
And yet I can’t get past Campbell’s soup and tuna as choices for the food bank?!
Which means my desire to help has left out a whole lot of people. They will walk into the Food Bank and feel that when they look on the shelves and don’t see items they love. They will feel less seen, less valued, less important. Less cared for. They may feel invisible.
All the things I work hard to shine a light on a eradicate every day.