Protection from Discrimination? Really?!

13 Nov

I was shown this Huffington Post article on the weekend and had such a visceral reaction to it, I couldn’t finish it:

I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would protect them from discrimination. I was wrong.

My first reaction was to shake my head in disbelief.
“Really?! How could you? Where are you living?” I want to ask the author.

I have since read the article, and my visceral reaction has deepened, so I’d like to share a few thoughts.

1. Human beings are judgmental, and we use our eyes first. It’s probably a leftover survival strategy from when we were prey. That said, skin colour is something we can see, and sadly, I believe we see it and make judgments based on it before we notice other visual cues about a person: clothing, accessories etc., and that it trumps things we can’t see like language, education etc. So it’s not unbelievable, in North America, to consider that a well dressed black youth will experience more discrimination than a not-so-well-dressed white youth. Sadly.

2. Delving in to the world of unconscious bias allows me to consider the reality that many people have an unconscious bias against people of colour. Looking at how the media portrays us will give you a glimpse into the unconscious bias in the media. This will impact the outcome of #1.

3. It pained me to read that this man’s son didn’t want to report being called the ‘N word’ to the administration because he didn’t want the other students to consider him to be “racial”. What does that even mean? Does he mean he didn’t want them to notice he is Black?! HE IS BLACK! Has he noticed? Are higher education, upper class status, tennis lessons, expensive clothing and fancy cars still being considered non-synonymous with being Black? Did this man’s son really think his fellow students weren’t noticing his skin colour all this time?

4. All of the rules in the article made me sad. I understand their origins and the intention to protect our children from profiling, violence and death. All worthy intentions, and all intentions that recognize some of the unfortunate realities of being Black in the USA and Canada (and likely in other places). But all of these rules without the context (and the understanding that not everyone has to have these rules) is key. We have to talk about racism and systemic racism (and other isms). We have to explain that not everyone is seen, accepted and treated equally (and why) in order to provide the context for why some of us have to move through the world differently: more carefully, with more caution, with extra “tools” in our “toolbox”, working harder, proving our competence, etc. We have to know who we are and what that means in the context of where we are living. How to do so without undermining the optimism and energy of youth is another story.

Being a person of colour in North America (and in other parts of the world) is a very different experience from being white. White skin brings privilege that money, education and accessories often do not trump – due to the power of unconscious bias, the legacy of slavery and colonization, and the continued tendency for the media to portray us in a negative light. Knowing about privilege and understanding the ramifications will help us to talk about it and ultimately to create systemic changes.

See more.

Copyright 2014 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.


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