Dillon and I were driving home the other night and I was excitedly telling him about a band called “Sax in the City” of all sax players that would be playing at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival that took place on Saturday. Dillon had just started taking saxophone lessons last week. “It’s a group of like 8 guys who all play sax” I told him, and then paused. “Actually I don’t know that it’s all guys…I just made that assumption (which was, indeed, true.)”
“You’re kind of a racist,” he said. “You do that all the time,” he added, referring to my knack of typecasting by gender. He’s only 8, so his exposure and use of ‘intercultural’ terms is budding.
“In this case you probably mean more sexist,” I explained, “when it’s gender, like men vs women, as opposed to race, that’s the issue. In fact, when I was growing up,” I said, with an image of Jane, Dolly and Lily in 9 to 5 clearly in mind, “men who always thought men were superior and that women couldn’t do anything were called male chauvanists.”
“You’re a female chauvanist,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s such a thing as a female chauvanist,” I answered, admittedly knowing the meaning of the whole phrase but not sure enough of the individual words to know if a simple gender switch would mean what he was trying to say. “I guess a female chauvanist would be called an…I don’t know,” I said out loud.
“I guess a female chauvanist would be called a…lesbian” my mind spontaneously filled in.
“Are you kidding me?” I thought, aghast and shocked. That is like every awful stereotype of strong, professional women that exists, and yet that’s what was floating just below the surface. But I’m a feminist! How has my own unconscious bias (and parallel to internalized racism, where one believes what the “other group” says about them) held me back? Has my unconscious belief led me to defer too often to the male leader in the room, or backed down when presenting ideas in gender mixed audiences?
Moments of transformational self-realization can happen anywhere, anytime, but sometimes it takes practice. Here are three tips for getting in ‘intercultural’ shape:
1. Listen to the spontaneous words that come to mind when you look at different people. If they’re not what you expected, rather than fear and squash them, try to figure out where they came from.
2. Stick with discomfort, and the moment you start to feel defensive about your beliefs surrounding race or difference, take it as a clue to stop and listen more carefully to what is going on.
3. Create opportunities to be ‘the other,’ and learn from the self-consciousness that may come from being different from everyone else in the room.
Have you made any shocking discoveries lately? What did you learn from them?