Tag Archives: assumptions

Parapan Am Games – inclusion?

12 Aug

The Parapan Am Games started this past weekend in Toronto.

And I find myself wondering, again, why the “para” games are separated and later than the “non para” games.
The Pan Am Games came and went in Toronto amid much fanfare. Traffic was bad, but we heard about the medal count daily and there was a buzz in the air.  Tickets sales were great.

And then everyone left, and life returned to the usual.

And now, almost 2 weeks later, the Parapan Am Games have started.  It feels like the “country cousin” to the city slicker, like the “main event” has already come and gone.

And this makes me sad. And angry.

I used to be a competitive swimmer, so I know a little about the dedication, sacrifice, heartache and pain athletes go through to succeed at their sport.  What says athletics more than someone who beats the odds of a disability to compete and become a world class athlete in their sport?
Why do we continue to separate these athletes from – what one could assume the underlying message may still be – the “real” athletes and the “real” competition?

Why don’t the Pan Am Games (and the Olympics, and possibly other sporting events) practice inclusion and have both able bodied and differently abled athletes competing in events at the same time? Why can’t the 50m freestyle have two events on the same day? Why can’t the soccer field be shared over the time of the games? It would mean the Games are longer, but it might mean more of an equal exposure for (and greater understanding and appreciation of) differently abled athletes, the possibilities that exist for them, and the triumph of the human spirit.

And maybe we would see athletics differently – and funding would increase?
Just a thought.

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Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator, Consultant, Author on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.


What Difference Can a Black Police Chief make in Toronto?

22 Apr

So we have a Black Police Chief in Toronto.
I want to cheer.
But my inner voice is saying “not so fast…”.

Here’s why:
Let’s consider the assumptions I am (and many people likely are likely) making based on skin colour and the expectations that these create.
We might assume that since Mark Saunders is Black, that racial profiling will end, that we will see less and less young Black men targeted, arrested, incarcerated or dead. That’s just one assumption, but I’m going to stop there.

That assumption is based solely on skin colour. It assumes a shared experience, a shared understanding of (and outrage at) the issues inherent in this problem. It assumes the shared perspective that this is discrimination, and that it is systemic.

The problem is that unconscious bias reigns.
It seeps into our systems and informs what we learn and don’t learn, how people are trained, treated and therefore how we see the world (as well as actions and people). The presence and pervasiveness of unconscious bias means that, even though Mark Saunders is Black, even though he was once a Black youth, he may not see racial profiling as such, may not see a problem, may not examine the system, may not fight for change.

Not because he is a bad person you understand, but because he doesn’t see it. 

The challenge is that our assumptions, based on our perspectives, may make his not seeing it unimaginable. We may not understand how this is possible. We may then assume it means he doesn’t care. And then we may be even harder on him that had he been white, because he “should get it”. We may be sorely disappointed.

Unconscious bias affects us all. It even impacts our feelings towards or away from groups that we belong to.
It’s not an excuse for inaction, but it’s a sad reality.

We can hope that in this case, skin colour will mean a shared understanding and a willingness to fight for justice and to create change for the Black communities in Toronto.
But sadly, we can’t expect it.

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Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Facilitator and Writer on issues of Diversity & Inclusion.

What gets us into trouble…

11 Feb

On the weekend I was reminded of a great quote by Mark Twain:
“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Although I would argue that what we don’t know can get us into trouble, the second half is particularly insightful when talking about diversity and inclusion.

Think about it:
What do we think we know for sure about people who are “not like us” that we then use as truth to interpret and judge their behaviour – and to determine our behaviour, decisions and language towards them?

“What we know for sure that just ain’t so” is about unconscious bias.
And the tricky thing about unconscious bias is the unconscious part.
Notice Mark Twain didn’t say it’s what you think you know for sure that just ain’t so, he said it’s what you KNOW for sure.
Sadly, if we know it for sure, we’re not likely to check to see if we are correct.

What do you “know for sure” about someone in your office, gym, class, neighbourhood, family, household, etc. And how might it be getting you into trouble?

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copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.

A Few Lessons about Racism from 2014

3 Jan

Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York:

– As long as the unconscious bias is that Black males are a threat, police officers (and others) will keep feeling that they have to use extreme force to protect themselves – even in situations where it seems clear that there is no threat.
– Case in point: Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner’s death (caught on video) in Staten Island, New York.
– Because of this unconscious bias, and the resulting systemic racism, racial profiling is alive and well, and also easy to get away with (as evidenced in both cases cited above) – because those called upon to make judgments about it are also victim to the same unconscious bias.
– Although I heard reporters say things like “Thank God that isn’t happening here” – it is. We have a smaller population, and maybe it’s not quite as insidious, but make no mistake, racial profiling is alive and well north of the border too.

LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling:

– One of the results of systemic racism is that someone can own a team with Black basketball players (and make money from their skill), and even sleep with someone of colour, but not want to socialize with Black people – and not see an issue with that.
– This reminds me of slavery: when Black people were property, and a means to generate wealth and status, but were not considered people.

Black Pete:
– In the Netherlands and Belgium, protests erupted over Saint Nicholas’ side-kick Black Pete. Faithful fans don’t see the depiction (black face, a frizzy wig and bright red lipstick) as racism. Their opponents disagree.
– “Cultural tradition” is how it is explained and how efforts made to preserve it are justified. This is true, but it’s the culture of colonization that created a black skinned figure that traditionally was to be feared by children. Have we not evolved?
– As countries become more diverse due to immigration, what’s the impact on people of colour who see these traditions, and on the populations of white children who learn them? Is it any wonder that xenophobia is alive and well?

In 2015, I hope we can continue to have courageous conversations about systemic racism that shed light on how people of colour are perceived and misrepresented in the media, and the ripple effects of this on policies, practices, and on how we treat each other – so that we can make real change.

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Copyright 2015 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.

Blind Spot – Part 3: Stereotypes

9 Oct

Ah stereotypes…
Have you noticed that the negative ones are usually more about certain people than others? And that those “certain” people are usually not in the dominant group? Think about it. Who are the bad drivers, the late-comers, the lazy ones…the list goes on. Of course there are positive stereotypes too: which group has rhythm, is good in math, has great fashion sense…?

Stereotypes are discussed in Blind Spot, which makes sense since they come from categories which the brain is so good at creating and using. Drs. Banaji and Greenbaum tell us that “stereotyping is an unfortunate by-product of the otherwise immensely useful human ability to conceive the world in terms of categories.” And everyone does it.

Back to our lists from the first paragraph: Blind Spot asserts that stereotypes are not equally distributed. This should come as no surprise. The authors state that “if you can be described by the default attributes of your society, you will be subject to less stereotyping.” So what are those default attributes, you ask? Blind Spot has an exercise I’ll rework to be Canadian for you to try: Picture a Canadian lottery winner making a call to collect their win. Who do you see in your mind’s eye? What does that person look like? Probably they are white and male and an adult. And those are the defaults they mention in the book. Which explains why, in a multicultural country, I’m still asked where I’m from because I’m not white.

We should add heterosexual, cisgender, able bodied, Christian, and a thin body type to that list of defaults. And there are others of course. Banaji and Greenbaum go on to say that “the default attributes that we add are so taken for granted and so automatic that, without thinking about why we do this, we are usually careful to specify a different set of attributes when the default-ones don’t apply.” That’s why we say things like female doctor or male nurse – for example.

Stereotypes are reinforced by the media when they profile, when they choose certain stories over others, when they don’t report certain stories, and in how a story is told. That constant barrage of perspective gets hard wired into our brain, unconsciously. The saddest thing about stereotypes is, as stated in Blind Spot, that they are also often self-applied by members of the group in question. And in this case, a self-applied stereotype can be self-undermining and become a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Take a moment to check your use of stereotypes, and consider the impact.

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2014 Copyright Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker and facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

Blind Spot – Part 2: Social Mindbugs

1 Oct

Last week I introduced you to social mindbugs. This week, I’m going to make the case a little more, because I know that it’s challenging to take in that what our unconscious mind believes can lead us in a direction/to a behaviour or conclusion that our conscious mind would abhor.

In case you missed last week’s post, Dr. Banaji and Dr. Greenbaum (the authors of Blind Spot) describe mindbugs as “Ingrained habits of thought that lead to errors in how we perceive, remember, reason and make decisions.” Social mindbugs are habits of thought that are about social groups.

The media is one of the powerful ways that mindbugs are created and maintained. How people are presented in the news provides us with some amazing examples of mindbugs. The challenge is that, because they are mindbugs, we don’t necessarily catch them or their problematic nature because they confirm what we believe (at an unconscious level or even at a conscious level).

A powerful example of this is coverage during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.
You may remember these photos because they did cause a stir at the time. These are a perfect example of social mindbugs at work. Read the caption and see what jumps out at you before you read on.


Both parties are in the same dire situation, but the Black people are referred to as looters while the white people are referred to as having found provisions.

Social mindbugs lead us to trust some people and not trust others, simply because of the social group they belong to (race, class, ability, education, looks, etc). In this case, that unconscious bias transferred into the language that was chosen by the journalist and the fact that the editorial team didn’t catch it.

They are called unconscious biases for a reason. But they still have tremendous impact.
Take some time in the next few days to consider what biases you may hold.

What social mindbugs are you carrying?

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Copyright 2014 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker & Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion

The Power of One Word

28 Nov

Language is an important part of creating and sustaining safe and inclusive space. It’s also relatively easy to change, so can start to make a difference quickly (unlike some changes that require policies, or that can get stuck in organizational red tape).  Checking your language requires awareness and commitment. It’s a decision you can make and start doing right away.

One of the examples I like to share with workshop participants is the choice of using the word “partner” instead of wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend – like when you are inviting the new person and their significant other to the company social, for example. If they are lesbian or gay, it suggests that you may be an ally, and provides the opportunity to come out if they wish to. “Partner” is a clue that a space may be LGBT inclusive, and clues are important.

Last week, I was returning some music equipment. The sales person was looking for the pedal, and I mentioned that I couldn’t confirm its presence since this was my partner’s rental and I was merely returning what I had been given. The response? “Let me look in this pocket to see if maybe they put it in here”.

Did you catch it? He said “they”! While not grammatically correct, it was a simple way to side-step assumptions, and a powerful example of how easy it can be to make someone feel more comfortable, and possibly make a space safer.  One choice, and one word made all the difference.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion

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