Improving Bias, Prejudice has to Start Somewhere
Updated: Mar 30, 2022
You'd have to be living in a cave to not be aware of all the social and racial unrest across the US in recent months, largely stemming from the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis.
Can any of us honestly say that we haven't harbored some type of negative bias toward someone at some point in our lives, Black or otherwise? I recall meeting my sister's boyfriend - a bearded, motorcycle-riding guy - some years back. Since I've never ridden a bike, and since "Rick" had long hair to boot, I conjured up images of a tough guy wielding a knife and pool stick, likely waiting to pick a fight with anyone who'd dare lip off to him. (I'm not proud of this, but it's true.)
I found out that not only ISN'T Rick violent, he's one of the most charitable guys I've ever met who's participated in scores of road rallies for various charitable causes. My point is that so many of our biases and stereotypes stem from misinformation, and from lack of exposure to various types of people and points of view.
When we hear about "trauma," we likely think of veterans and victims of abuse, but racism and discrimination can lead to its own form of trauma - as pointed out by Kennette Thigpin in the November cover story in "Employee Assistance Report." Dr. Thigpen describes what the offended person experiences and suggests some ways to heal these wounds.
The November Brown Bagger insert presents even more useful, practical tips in responding to "microaggressions," a term I had never heard of, but which makes perfect sense. I was not aware that I was guilty of a microaggression(s) with my thoughts about Rick. This is especially true when we direct some form of statement, question or other action toward this person. In my case, I might have asked, "So, how was Sturgis last year?" implying that EVERY biker goes to this rural South Dakota bikers' mecca each August.
As described in this month's Brown Bagger, microaggressions are the everyday slights, put-downs, and insults that members of marginalized groups experience in their interactions with members of a dominant group. The people making the statements often have no idea that they’ve offended someone. They may even think they are being friendly. But the effect of microaggressions is to demean and dismiss, to make people feel that they are unwelcome and don’t belong. Would my question about Sturgis have made Rick feel that way? Quite possibly.
EA professionals are aware that microaggressions are even trickier when they occur at work. They differ from more open acts of harassment or discrimination, which are typically more direct and intense. These should be reported to the human resources (HR) department. But there is a fuzzy line between these acts and microaggressions. Repeated and intentional microaggressions ARE a form of harassment.
Several things are for certain: 1) Microaggressions DO in fact, matter. 2) Proper response by the offended person is absolutely KEY to help resolve, and not worsen, the situation. 3) Finally, these issues cannot be swept under a rug. Bringing them out in the open in a calm, cool, responsible matter - as opposed to pretending they don't exist - is step one.