My husband recently took our 7 year old son to the mall where a teenage employee commented on the dark hair on my son's face. I wasn't there to witness the interaction, but I sure was quick to recognize it as bias. The definition of bias is: any attitude belief or feeling that justifies or results in unfair treatments of a person or a group of people because of their identity (NAEYC Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves, p 182).
We had a quick conversation (my son gets annoyed when we have serious talks, so I keep them short and to the point) to identify the feelings he had, figure out appropriate ways
to respond to comments like this, who to ask for help and most importantly, that the comment was not ok.
After a day to cool off, I gave the employer a phone call to discuss how inappropriate and unacceptable that treatment was. It was a respectful conversation that left me feeling proud of myself for standing up for my son. I also could see the relief in my son's face, which meant everything to me.
Bias is often unclear & very questionable. Unlike racism which is often very clear and obvious, bias is sneaky and ambiguous. For me, it typically clicks later on after the interaction occurred, often when it's too late to speak up. It's easy to laugh it off as a joke, but either way you are trapped. If you stand up for yourself, you could be humiliated even more (hello, gaslighting). But if you don't stand up for yourself, you are part of the bigger problem.
Bias is a lot of "WTF just happened" moments. You know it feels wrong, but you can't exactly pinpoint why.
The other side of this is that I am noticing my own children's biases towards groups of people. My 3 yr daughter often grabs white dolls over black or brown ones. My son recently told me that all rappers are Black. Even at age 7, he has absorbed the unconscious ideas of classifying certain groups of people. It's not his fault or mine, it's the way our society has been built (long before we were around).
I'm sure many of you also did not talk about race very much growing up. It was considered rude to point out differences and "color blindness" ("I don't see color") was what we were taught (esp. in white/christian communities).
Starting to have these conversations can be super uncomfortable because of what we learned at home growing up. My parents never talked about our family being different than other people (even though we all were experiencing bias and racism daily). No one talked about it. So now talking with my son often triggers feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety.
If there were more conversations about race growing up, I would have felt more equipped to call it out for what it is and speak up. Not only at home, but especially in schools and in the community. Detaching shame and guilt from discussing social injustice is really the main take home message for us as parents. When we feel ashamed or guilty, we are highly unlikely to stand up. If we feel confident and equipped, we're more likely to find the courage to stand up and speak out against discrimination.
The good news is that bias can be unlearned. The more I talk about bias, the less triggering it becomes. I've become more intentional and prepared with how I explain certain things in an age appropriate way. What I say won't always be perfect or correct, but that's part of the unlearning process: to recognize our own biases and stereotypes.
We all have them, no one is excluded from this. I have them and my young children have them. It's not our fault, it's the way society has unconsciously taught us to believe certain things about others. It's generational, meaning we've all learned certain ideas from our parents who learned from their parents and so on. We as grown ups, have the power to change this for the next generation.
Not only am I teaching my son how to speak up + stand up against injustices, but also that he belongs, his voice matters and that he is always worth standing up for. I am becoming that adult I needed as a kid and it makes me so. damn. proud.
We all Belong, We all Matter