Almost everyone has a bias when seeing the color of someone’s skin. The ramifications are huge and the solutions unclear.
How this applies to cubicleMonks:
We know scientifically that humans are hard-wired to make judgments about people based on what we initially see. In the cubicle, we can always spot another engineer. I don’t need to see a pocket protector to recognize an engineer across the room.
We also see a lot of cultural and ethnic diversity in the tech world. This is something I appreciate about my work. Thanks to co-workers, I have learned volumes about the world. Following the aftermath of 9/11, a work friend from Pakistan and I shared deep and impactful stories about what it meant to our worlds. I have learned first-hand cultural treats from almost all corners of the world. I love spicy food thanks to shared meals with work friends.
I would say racial and cultural diversity is appreciated in the tech world, for the most part. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have large problems around the negative effects of racial bias.
Here are some questions I have:
- Based on race, do people feel like they are supposed to be smarter than others?
- Based on race, do people feel like they need to prove they are also smart?
- Based on race, do people feel like they need to be the best because they were given the easiest path and most opportunity?
- Based on race, do people question every day if they even belong in the cubicle?
Pondering the questions above, I am shocked to realize the biased expectations I have of myself and others.
These and other biases slow us down. They require unnecessary personal energy and block us from working efficiently with each other. As a leader in my company, I am responsible for us operating at maximum efficiency. Teams can’t reach their peak performance in a racially biased environment. This hurts me and my company in addition to the individual pains brought on by the biases.
The cubicles and the larger society will not be able to run at our highest efficiency and make the biggest impact for everyone if we don’t solve the racial bias problem.
While watching a panel of experts talk about race following the murder of George Floyd, a white woman on the panel asked “What are you willing to give up to stop racism?” This made my heart heavy. The first thing that came to mind was what I was NOT willing to give up.
I am not willing to give up my physical safety or the physical safety of my family. This isn’t fair. It isn’t right. People of Color put their physical lives at risk every time they go outside. In the case of Breonna Taylor, she didn’t even need to go outside – she was just sleeping in her own bed when she was killed. Wrestling with these injustices, I went to bed with a heavy heart.
My head hurt more than usual when I woke up the next day. My energy was lower and so I just sat drinking my first cup of coffee instead of jumping straight into action. As I was filling my second cup, I received clarity on what I was willing to give up to stop racism.
Today, I am still not willing to risk my physical safety. My family and my work team need me to be healthy.
But I am willing to be vulnerable and admit that I am part of the racial bias problem. I am racist. I am not proud of this. It is quite shameful. It isn’t by choice, but recognizing it gives me responsibility and opportunity for discovery, growth, and change.
“The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” – Ijeoma Oluo.
Pay attention to the skin colors you see in your life. Do you have an initial judgment of a person based on their skin color? Are there colors of skin that you see a lot? Are there colors of skin you aren’t seeing? Please don’t take action. First, just sit with the feelings that come up around skin color. Then for the next step, I don’t know what to do. The problem of racial bias is too complex for me to fully understand or proclaim answers. I need to keep listening and observing.