I had to make a delivery to an upscale apartment building in Carmel, IN which is a very affluent predominantly white suburb of Indianapolis; it’s also known for its aggressive policing practices of stopping Black people in nice cars....
As I walked to the entrance with full hands I found that the door was being held open by a smartly dressed young Black teen. I thanked him and smiled as I walked into the vestibule. When the elevator arrived I felt someone slide in behind me, and I turned to see the young man. My heart raced and my body tensed with fear!
What was happening????? I took a deep breath and in those milliseconds realized that I had just experienced unconscious bias. There was no reason for me to fear that young teen, and I felt a sense of shame knowing that I would not have had the same reaction if some young white teen had jumped into the elevator with me.
I gained my composure, smiled and asked what floor he wanted. He said, “Three. I forgot my keys and my dad made me come back up to get them.” And then, on that short intimate elevator ride I asked him, “And what’s it like being a Black kid in Carmel?”
His eyes fell and he quietly replied that it was hard. That he gets pointed at and laughed at all the time. My eyes - and heart dropped - and I think I mumbled something like an apology and a promise to try to make our world better.... I remember feeling pretty lame.
I gave him a thin smile as he got off the elevator, and was left alone with my thoughts....
How could anyone make fun of anyone simply because of race? What happens to his psyche growing up with this happening again and again?
And where did that feeling of fear come from? I have traveled over the world and often been a minority in lots of different situations. Could it be the news stories that seem to always depict a Black murderer or gang member? Could it be the lack of interaction I had with any people of color growing up in rural Indiana and being reminded to be careful when I drove through the “sketchy” parts of the City? I think I could go on and on about the ways in which my subconscious has created an unfair caricature of a Black man...
I share this humbling experience as an entry point to conversation. To realize that we all hold unconscious biases and to be curious as to why they pop up and to take time to learn how they were formed over time - and how we can unlearn them. To be honest with yourself and others when it happens - and to forgive yourself. Over the years my therapist shared this thought, “We do better when we know better.”
I am trying.
I am trying to learn about the ways in which Black people have been wrongly portrayed in our society and to pay attention to that knee jerk reaction that isn’t always right.
I hope that you are too...
Vanderbilt University defines unconscious bias (or implicit bias) as prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair.
6 Ways to Break Our Implicit Biases
Increase contact with people that are different from you.
Notice positive examples.
Be specific in your intent.
Change the way you do things.
Heighten your awareness.
Take care of yourself...
Take a Harvard test to measure your own patterns: