Who Am I?

October 10, 2017 in Inside SWS
Remember the game we played as kids, “Who Am I?” It was a ready go-to distraction on long car rides: “I wear big boots, carry a hose, and ride in a big red truck — who am I?” I found myself thinking of this pastime while Rosetta Lee shared her eye-opening presentation on implicit bias last week. It was so much simpler when I was five or six and not yet blinded, or at least influenced, by societal biases. It never occurred to me then to judge someone, knowingly or not, because of their gender, religion, body size, or skin color. I now know that I — and all of us — bring preferences and prejudices about people and groups of people to every conversation and experience, many of which we have no awareness.

Initially I was deeply disturbed by this notion. If we are all walking around with faulty images and irrational preconceptions of one another, how can we possibly cultivate an inclusive community where all feel welcome and respected? For a moment, the situation felt overwhelming and hopeless. For example, Rosetta shared the impact some commonly held biases have in schools, including:

  • Undermining of women in leadership
  • Questioning qualifications of people of color
  • Making a correlation between race and socioeconomics
  • Dismissal of mental health challenges
  • Linking black assertion to aggression or defiance
  • Viewing language diversity as an intellectual deficit

It is hard to read this list, and even more difficult to acknowledge we have witnessed people exhibiting these biases in their words and actions. Perhaps we have even done so ourselves. Back to the question of what can we do, as individuals and a community, knowing we all harbor, unconsciously, unjust and unfair judgments of one another. Rosetta offered us suggestions, a few of which I would like to share. These give me hope that we do not need to remain stuck in a place of discriminatory thinking and misunderstanding.

First and most important, we can start talking about biases. I see this beginning to happen, whether through the efforts of our faculty and parent equity committees, or through informal conversations. The fact that 70 people attended our evening with Rosetta says to me that people care about this topic and want to learn more.

Second, we can spend meaningful time with people who are not like us, and through that increase our capacity to see other perspectives. We naturally gravitate toward people with whom we have things in common. Last spring, I had an honest and very hard conversation with a parent who willingly shared her and child’s experiences of SWS, in light of their socioeconomic and racial identity. It was difficult to hear what she shared, and I was grateful to gain a deeper understanding that I might not have otherwise.

Finally, we can develop the habit of reflecting on our own feelings in the moments we may be experiencing or acting on our internal biases. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why am I feeling this way?
  • Would I behave this way if the person were…?
  • What do I KNOW?
  • What are my values?
  • How do I behave according to my values?

These are not easy questions to ask, and the answers may not be the ones we had hoped. Moving from professing our values to living our values demands greater self-awareness and an uncompromising, true intention to do so. Investing time in asking “who am I?” and “who are you?” is an important first step.

Warmly, Tracy

Published in the Chalkboard from 10.11.17