There have been a rash of articles lately focusing on studies that show that whites are often anxious in their interactions with people of color for fear of coming across as racist, and may avoid interactions with people of other races as a result. The author of one study, Project Implicit, suggested that becoming more aware of your unconscious biases is a way to help overcome this. I have to tell you, I’ve been hoping this is true, because my brain has been working overtime picking up my subconscious thoughts, assumptions and biases related to cultural, racial and individual difference for several years now. And, since I actually started acknowledging it and writing about it in the past month or so, the activity has gone into overdrive.
It started with the epiphany I blogged about a few weeks ago that took place in the parking lot at the South Shore Cultural Center (where I was first able to separate media/learned/underlying stereotype from the empirical data in front of me) and since that day they’ve been coming like a flood. I see them like an ongoing commentary, sort of a white noise that is a continuum in my brain. Remember the movie “Stranger than Fiction” where Will Ferrell discovers he is a character in a novel, so every time he lifts a finger he hears the narrator’s commentary…it’s kind of like that.
For example, I blogged last week about my friend Derrick who came to the door selling newspaper subscriptions to raise money for Lambs Farm. One side of my brain is saying out loud “Hello, how do you do?” and the underlying white noise in my mind is saying “this person is African-American. What is a black person doing in our neighborhood and knocking at my door? I can’t believe my child opened the door without saying “who is it?” But if we didn’t open the door he’d think we didn’t open the door because he’s black but he doesn’t know that I never open the door for strangers. Is that true? I wonder if I’m more apt to open the door if someone’s white? Why would a company send a black kid into a white neighborhood to collect donations? Let me at least listen to what he has to say. I bet some of my neighbors won’t open the door. I hope no one is mean or racist to him at those other houses…
As the realizations have come more quickly I’ve had this fear that as I get older somehow the valve between brain and mouth will loosen or break and these unconscious thoughts would come out involuntarily. But maybe the learning is in knowing when sharing might help open dialogue for greater interaction and understanding.
In the meantime, most often I catch these thoughts, silently say “you’re such an a__hole,” and then smile, caught again making assumptions based on unconscious stereotypes peddled as truths, but now one step freer with the discovery toward a new prejudice-free paradigm.