Every once in a while we get to pull the curtain back and see what people are really thinking and saying about others – sometimes even about us.
And when it is less than flattering, we are always shocked, hurt, appalled. And we have every right to be, because ideally people (especially those in positions of power and in public service – like, oh, the Toronto Police) wouldn’t feel that way – let alone say it.
But they do. And they do. You can read more about the Toronto Police video incident here.
We all have these moments. Yes, we all do, even in our mind.
Out loud, they usually happen when we think no one is listening. Or with people we think will agree – when we think it’s “safe.”
But it’s never safe to have these conversations, because the ripple effects are enormous. And those ripples begin in our mind well before the conversation happens and impact everything from our body language, our choice of words, our response (and response time, and if we respond), our choices, our actions (or inaction), etc.
We think we are just having a thought, or a conversation, but these can lead to inequitable treatment of people – and usually only some people; usually marginalized people (people with disabilities, people of colour, Indigenous people, women, LGBTQ folks, etc.)
When these extremely disrespectful and hurtful occurrences come to light, there are apologies, there is damage control, we hear all about how it’s out of character or unacceptable and won’t happen again.
But here’s the thing: unconscious bias is everywhere and everyone has it. Being caught may be an isolated incident – but the thought, the comment, or the actions (however small) may not be.
I think police officers and other professions that provide service to people (doctors, teachers, etc) have a special responsibility to treat people not just with respect, but equitably; to understand what it means to be from a marginalized group and to use that awareness as they work with those populations.
But in order for that to happen, we have to get at unconscious bias. We have to recognize it, see it for what it is, challenge ourselves, and work hard to mitigate it. Ableism, racism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia/heterosexism, sexism, faithism, classism, etc. are perpetuated through the telling of certain stories, about certain people, in certain ways, as well as the lack of the telling of other stories. This impacts how we see people, and who we see as having value and as valuable – to the point that we often think the manifestations of these isms are “the way it is”. It’s not.
Training can help.
Practicing awareness and catching ourselves can help (sign up for my weekly Inclusion Insight to practice seeing more).
Talking about it can help.
So will accountability, and various other ways to keep the awareness on our radar.
But until we use this awareness and take a good hard look at the messaging we are surrounded with and what they imply about who has worth and value and who does not, those isms will live on in various forms including unconscious bias. And in the case of unconscious bias we will continue to deny its existence and its impact until we are caught on video. And maybe even then.