As I mentioned in my previous blog on this subject, my family moved to Oakland when I was 8. I attended the Oakland public schools from third grade through high school graduation. I talked about the diversity of the high school student body, and my desire to be more than color blind.
I enjoyed reading the comments of others who also grew up in Oakland. Some experienced racism; others were fearful about being the minority at their school. All appreciated the opportunity to live in an ethnically and culturally diverse city.
Speaking of being color blind, Jerry Kang, the new Vice Chancellor for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the UCLA School of Law, argues that we all have implicit biases. He says there’s no such thing as immaculate perception, that no matter how hard we try not to be biased, we can’t help ourselves. He points to psychological studies that show biases we are not aware we have related to ethnicity, age and gender.
Professor Kang, who is Asian American, said at the beginning of a talk that most in the audience probably imagine he’s proficient in martial arts and math. I actually didn’t think either. I did think he looked young for his position! (age bias).
I would like to contend these biases, implicit or otherwise, are rooted in our growing up experiences. If we don’t have ongoing interaction with people of other ethnicities, we will allow our biases to be shaped by television, movies, advertisements, etc.
Maybe that’s true, but in my previous blog I mentioned my mother’s growing up experience and her shame at hiding in fear from an African American ticket collector on a train. That shame compelled her to radical change as an adult. My aunt, her sister, said she didn’t have the same memory. She does remember that the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles where they grew up was advertised as a white community. The sisters had no ongoing childhood experience with people of color. However, this didn’t stop my aunt from later being an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement.
This is getting complicated.
Amy Chua capitalized on stereotypes surrounding Asian mothers in her bestselling book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” Hmm.
My Vietnamese American friend recently told me about her niece who was dating an American. I said, “Do you mean a White guy?” She did.
I’ve noticed that when we hear stories, we imagine the person in the story is the same color as we are, unless the story teller says, the woman is African American or the man is White or the child is Asian American. The same is true of the story teller. Have you noticed the story teller only mentioning the ethnicity of someone if it’s different from that of the story teller? And why wouldn’t we? We’re naturally ego-centric.
So we notice differences in skin color, size, age, gender, etc. We stereotype. And sometimes we make use of those stereotypes.
It reminds me of the Terminator. Remember in the first movie when we learned Arnold was a robot? We saw the person through his robot eyes computing facts about that person. The terminator didn’t discriminate: he killed everyone!
Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.”
As Mandela noted – unlike robots – we have hearts. I’d like to believe his words that love comes more naturally to us than hate despite our propensity towards bias and stereotype.