My Bias Was “Hidden” In Plain Sight
I recently reconnected with a former co-worker I’ll call Sandra. I found her when she commented on a political thread I was following. I sent her a friend request, and she commented she was surprised to see me on the democratic side of the political spectrum.
We didn’t have a lot of interaction until I invited Sandra to follow my writer’s page for my blog, My Life After Patrick, on Facebook. This blog is about navigating life after the death of my husband, Patrick. Sandra commented that she remembered his death and how she felt sorry for me. Her next sentence shocked me. “ I remember how I always felt around you like I wasn’t good enough because I was Mexican,” she said.
Her words were shocking and brutal for me to hear. As hard as it was, it was even more problematic when she added that many fellow minority coworkers felt I thought I was superior to them because of my education and status.
I’m not racist because…
My initial thought was they should have known I wasn’t racist because I had minority friends. I resisted the temptation to say this because having minority friends does not mean I am not racist. Not feeling I am racist also does not prove I am not a racist!
If someone perceives I am racist, they are likely picking up on a bias that I hold, either consciously or subconsciously. For example, my parents raised me to believe that success is the result of hard work. I never understood that I had privileges that others did not have. Could this have been the bias that I unconsciously projected?
I grew up in a lower-middle-class family. My parents did not pay for me to go to college. I worked my way through and supplemented with student loans that I later paid off. I believed that this option was available to anyone. I wasn’t aware that standardized tests are normed on white, middle-class students. Although lower-income students may have financial aid available, this doesn’t always cover all expenses, and the additional costs may make college cost-prohibitive for many minorities. This article provides examples of these and other biases.
My beliefs have changed over the last four years. My path from conservative to progressive was a series of life events. I’m a different person than I was four years ago, and I’m able to look at the feedback my coworker gave me in a different light.
Biases are more visible than you think.
Knowing that at least one person perceived me as racist was a harsh truth for me to face. I knew my beliefs had changed, but I always believed that the change was internal. I thought I had hidden biases. I should have known that some of them were easy to define.
As a pre-licensed counselor, I am still learning to identify my biases and work to ensure they don’t interfere with my effectiveness as a counselor. My clients are mostly low-income, which has given me insight into groups of people that I previously judged from a distance.
The old version of myself would have been indignant and defensive. I am not that version anymore. I accept that in the past, I did consider myself better than others. And for that, I am ashamed.
When I realized how much my views had changed, I wanted to enlighten my friends and family members. I tried posting and sharing articles, and I quickly discovered that the divide seemed insurmountable. I have read and will keep reading articles that suggest the best ways to approach racism, but I haven’t been able to sway any opinions so far.
I know that it can be painful to confront biases and prejudice. I’m going to pick just a few examples of prejudicial statements, and I challenge all of my white readers to read them and ask yourself if you’ve been guilty of the same thoughts. For my Black and other people of color readers, maybe you could comment and share an example of prejudice you have experienced.
“I’ve worked hard for my success. I shouldn’t have to support people who are too lazy to do the same thing.” I have heard versions of this statement made by people discussing racial issues. I have white acquaintances who have used this when talking about racial protests and denying the existence of systemic racism. I have also heard it used to justify supporting President Trump, even though he is demonstrably racist.
“None of those people protesting were slaves, and I was never a slave owner.” Racists use this statement to deny the existence of systemic racism. I used to feel this way until I studied the history of Black Americans since abolition. Although America has made progress, we still have a long way to go.
“I can’t support Black Lives Matter protests because of the violence and looting.” Data from Armed Conflict & Event Data Location (ACLED) indicates that 93% of Black Lives Matter protests were peaceful. Of course, news organizations are more likely to cover violent demonstrations than peaceful demonstrations, contributing to this misinformation.
Biases and prejudice are hard to hide. Even when we are not fully aware of them, they have a habit of being visible to others. If you’ve ever wondered about your own bias, the Implicit Attitude Test is a quick way to identify bias. The IAT is a free test, and it takes about 15 minutes to complete.
I wish I could say I am entirely bias-free. In reality, it took me almost 50 years to become aware of some of my biases. I can’t expect to get rid of them quickly. I will continue increasing my awareness.