Unconscious bias, microaggression, and please shut your piehole.

I haven’t written a serious post on Mom Goes On for a while. I wanted to cover this subject before Christmas, but life got in the way. It’s been simmering for much longer than that, and now it’s boiling over. So here goes. (My apologies in advance for the length. I’ll try to make it worth your while.)

I’ve written on another blog (Depression’s Collateral Damage, which I co-host with my good friend and co-author, Bernadette), about the fact that no one has the right to an opinion about another person’s choice, with the consultation of a qualified medical professional, to take medications for the treatment of mental illness. That’s a truth I will fight to the death.

In the same way, I’ll fight to the death another truth: NO ONE has the right to dismiss any marginalized group’s concerns regarding bias, discrimination, microagressions, etc.

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Examples of microaggressions that happen every day: “You don’t ACT black.” “Where do you come from?” “You look so much more professional now that you’ve straightened your hair.” “You have a disability? You look perfectly normal to me.”

Consider how often we hear and read dismissive and sarcastic jabs about having to be “politically correct.” Most often, I must point out, these jabs come from members of the least marginalized group in existence – white, heterosexual “Christian” males. People, in other words, who have never been at the receiving end of microaggression, bias, or discrimination. What these people really want is license to ignore and belittle the very real hurts that are constantly committed against others who aren’t as privileged as they are.

In October I attended a talk by a local college professor on the topic of unconscious bias, a subject on which there are volumes of academic research.

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We all have unconscious biases that lead us to behave in certain ways toward or think certain things about specific groups of people. It requires a great deal of self-awareness and intentional consideration to recognize and deal with these biases so that they don’t affect others within our sphere of influence.

This fascinating talk in October turned some new wheels for me. As an over-the-top introspector, I’d long considered my own unconscious biases. But the definition and examples given of microagression really hit home.

So…all the above was a lead-in to an experience I had shortly before Christmas.

I was early to a coffee shop meeting of a board I belong to, a group that is working to improve the level of leadership and critical/higher thinking skills within organizations in our metro area (IRONY ALERT). Another gentleman on the board was early, as well, and we chatted as we waited for the rest of the team. I’m kind of new to the team and hadn’t had much of a chance to talk to this guy (pseudonym for the purposes of this narrative: “Craig”), but from what I knew of him, I had a favorable impression.

A Republican debate had taken place the night before, and Craig started the conversational ball rolling with a comment about how sick of politics he was. I concurred, and kept that ball moving with a comment about how I’m totally on board with Bernie Sander’s message, but that as a woman raised by a fierce feminist it would be extremely important for me to see a woman in the White House.

Oh, boy. Here’s how the conversation continued:

Craig: “I don’t know. I really think all this gender bias and discrimination stuff is totally overblown. I just don’t see it.”

Me: Seeing red, holding my breath to keep the steam from erupting from my ears, and making a very deliberate choice to remain calm in the face of willful ignorance : Hmmm…well, you’re not a woman.

Craig: Right, but I’ve worked with women in business all my life. And in every instance, every woman I’ve worked with has been absolutely judged on her own merit. Gender has nothing to do with it. It’s all about being capable, knowledgeable, and professional.

Me: That’s a very interesting perspective. But I wonder if you’ve ever recognized the instances of microagressions that occur toward women and other groups every single day. (Okay, I may not have been quite that articulate. But you try to sound reasonable while sitting on your hands to keep from throttling the guy across the table from you.)

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Thankfully, some of our other team members showed up and diverted my attention from the public assault I had been just seconds from committing. Yes, I should have merely considered this exchange a chance to educate someone who didn’t know better. Apparently I am not that mature.

And ever since that day, I’ve been composing the “I wish I’d said THIS” lines you think of once it’s way past too late.

  • “Your anecdotal evidence bears no resemblance to what is actually experienced daily, worldwide.”
  • “So…since our government, corporations, and churches  – in fact, most segements of society – are VERY heavily dominated by men, and you say that women are able to rise solely on merit, what you’re actually saying is that women have exponentially less merit than men.”
  • “Don’t make benign assumptions about subjects you cannot possibly know anything about – because you obviously have never taken a look at your own biases or considered the experiences of women.”

…and oh, so much more.

In closing (“Finally,” I imagine you saying) discrimination of all sorts is alive and well and being fed heaping servings of encouragement in our current culture.

Don’t be part of the problem.

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14 thoughts on “Unconscious bias, microaggression, and please shut your piehole.

  1. It’s been so long since I’ve been on here, I see you’ve posted quite a bit! I need to get to reading.

    Depending upon my mood, I can sometimes retort quickly with a nice sarcastic answer. Other times, I’m left dumbfounded and stammering out a couple of Umm’s before dropping the topic (or giving the a-hole a mean right hook).

    And sometimes, you have to tell yourself that you took the High Road. (A little bit of denial? Possibly.)

    Your friend Craig, however, would have felt that right hook. Grrr.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just exchanged texts with my mother on this earlier today lamenting that things have not progressed the way many (white privileged men) assert they have.

    I totally wish I could watch you verbally tear that guy to shreds.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Just been catching up with your posts, Amy. Love that family photo. But back to this post… Hmm. I like the term ‘microaggression’ – I’ve not heard it before and it’s very descriptive. It does go on here but I think the UK may possibly (possibly) be slightly ahead of the US. We still have our backwaters, but women are quite visible and shouty here! As are other minorities. But white, middle-class men are mostly still in power in business and politics (and sport, and everywhere…). One day, our daughters, or our daughters’ daughters will have a level playing field. Happy new year. Sam x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for that perspective on culture in the UK – very interesting! I agree, the term “microaggression ” is fascinating, and so appropriate. Lovely to hear from you, and I’m looking forward to another year of seeing your beautiful photos and enjoying your narratives of life across the pond!

      Like

  4. I’d be tempted to reply with a question that makes him do the explaining:

    “So how do you explain that women earn on average 79 cents for each dollar a man earns?”

    “So how do you explain that there are only 24 female CEOs in all the Fortune 500 companies?”

    You’ll at least get to see him squirm when he realizes he’s either got to say he thinks women are inferior, or admit that bias really does exist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a good question, and it’s one I’ve considered, too. I think it’s time those old white guys got a good rattling of their comfort and privilege, and have to deal with a female as leader of the “free world” (what a weird term that is). I agree – I really love the word micro aggression – it’s so perfect for those little comments and actions I’ve witnessed and experienced over an entire lifetime.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You are absolutely right. There is still plenty of discrimination in the world. Although I do believe that a woman can greatly excel in life based upon her determination and skills, I will freely admit that there will likely be hurdles she’ll have to leap over, and even roadblocks that could stop her progress…simply because of her being a woman.

    Liked by 1 person

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