Doing the work to challenge unconscious bias
“Black History Month must be more than just a month of remembrance; it should be a tribute to our history and reminder of the work that lies in the months and years ahead.” ~Marty Meehan
February 1st marks the beginning of Black History Month in the U.S. It also marks the launch of one of InCheck’s 2022 DE&I initiatives – educating and creating awareness around the history and experience of a broad and diverse intersection of humanity – as part of a goal of building a culture that is inclusive enough to be diverse.
How did we get here? Our leadership team has been transparent about this journey. There have been ups and downs, stops and starts, with a focus on intentional movement, while being mindful of action bias.
Last year our management team spent months working with external DE&I consultants engaging in learning and education activities. One of the activities was being asked to create a DE&I workplan. One of the recommended workplan initiatives was to launch an education and awareness channel on our internal social collaboration platform. We are completing this piece of the workplan this month with content dedicated to Black History Month. We’ll be sharing quotes, stories, books, learnings, and introspective questions, where team members can participate by respectfully sharing their thoughts.
When considering the launch of our education and awareness platform, the idea of gathering content about Black History Month really spoke to me, so I raised my hand without hesitation. Guided by my passion I began the work, but in a world that struggles with how to approach this topic and as a white woman in her 30’s, I was soon questioning my approach. The sheer volume of articles, videos, stories, movies, podcasts, and overall information is daunting – was I grabbing the right content? Am I gathering the appropriate content? But then again, what is right and appropriate? How do I make that determination? How will this be received? The process of reviewing content was also very emotional for me, and the added weight of content selection and the unknown of the collective response created even more anxiety.
As a side note, I began this work on a Friday, and, after a long week, I told myself I was going to finish my workday early. Instead, I became so wrapped up in the material that not only did I continue to work well past my intended stopping point, I felt compelled to go a step further and write about my journey.
For the most part, I was raised in predominantly white neighborhoods. I attended mostly white schools. Diversity didn’t seem to exist in my world. It wasn’t until recently that I moved to a more diverse city… notice I said more. I cannot truthfully state that where I live is diverse. I hear comments from people in surrounding neighborhoods talking about how lucky we are that our children attend “such a diverse school.” While I agree that our children are fortunate to experience and learn about so many different cultures than I experienced as a child, is a city with a 73% white population truly diverse?
Why am I sharing this? As part of my research, a video I watched about unconscious bias stopped me in my tracks. Unconscious bias is a social stereotype people may have about a certain group of people or subconscious preference that may affect someone’s opinion based on their experiences. Everyone has unconscious beliefs. Everyone. There is no running from it. And while it may be hard to believe, when someone really thinks about it, if they were provided with examples of when unconscious bias comes into play, they would understand and be unable to deny it.
The positive change comes when someone recognizes their unconscious bias and begins to have awareness of how it appears in their daily life. I am putting that work in today. I recognize that while I would fight to the death to defend that I’m not racist, I have zero doubt that even though I was raised to love all, I also have hidden unconscious biases that I need to address within myself. Upon realizing this at first, I felt sad. I felt disappointment that it took me this long to recognize, but I am so grateful I did.
My personal journey led me to feeling very passionate about this topic and to raise my hand to get more involved. Realizing I am working with a moving target, the focus of my research was to reach the hearts and minds of individuals who may not understand or have not heard of unconscious bias. I wanted to share stories that would lead to personal reflection and share them in a relatable way because even though I haven’t lived it, I have an appreciation for the history and want to be a voice. I realize I can’t share information on Black History the way that a person of color may be able to. But I also believe in the importance of reaching those who can relate to me and my story – those who can make an impact in a way they didn’t understand they could previously.
While I know my research only captures a small snapshot of all there is to explore within Black History, I hope that you are taken on a journey. I hope this small glimmer of insight creates the spark that encourages you to learn more. I encourage you to do your own research, ask questions, and share what you’ve learned. Be a voice.
Recommended InCheck reading list for February, Black History Month
The New Jim Crow – Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs
The Rib King by Ladee Hubbard
“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” ~Franklin Thomas, activist, philanthropist, and former president of the Ford Foundation