Before I delve into the meat of this post, I must acknowledge that I have spent 21 years living in relatively homogeneous communities, where I have been surrounded by people who either look like me or have similar lived experiences to me. My interactions with diverse groups have been fairly limited until I left my hometown for college. This was not due to aversion, but due to the wealth of privilege surrounding me and the demographic disparities embedded within that. Embracing my ignorance and working to educate myself on this subject has been a necessary struggle since graduating high school, when I came to the realization of my limited exposure to different groups and experiences.
This diversifying of my interactions has led to me learning about implicit bias, which is a constant in our society, even at Local Matters, an organization heavily focused on addressing social injustices in our community. Watching kids interact with each other at Local Matters’ programming has been especially revealing of this. At a program last week, a group of campers came into the community kitchen for a program and sorted themselves amongst the four tables in the room. Except for one or two outliers, the four tables were evenly split by race and gender. No one gave instructions or insisted on this, it simply happened on its own. When the kids were then randomly assigned to new groups, they then arranged themselves by race and gender around the table, and again on their own. This happened in similar ways with nearly every class of kids that I have shadowed this summer.
While writing this blog post, the group chat for my Columbus Foundation cohort was having a conversation about racism in relation to an event where people acted on their implicit biases and “othered” a group of kids because of their skin color. (Side note, this cohort is filled with the most intelligent and kind-hearted people in the city.) Some cohort members pointed to education as the main factor for how these implicit biases are created. But while people learn these biases, people can also unlearn them, and grow to be aware of their biases, expanding their understanding of the world and the people around them in the process. While it was frustrating to watch these children seemingly unintentionally segregate themselves based on demographics, the acknowledgement that this occurred is how we can start to change these type of occurrences. Having conversations about these biases and experiences, such as the conversation that the fellows had, is the first step to working past them.
Everyone, regardless of privilege or demographic, has these unconscious biases. All people should work to become more aware of their personal implicit biases, so that we know to treat one another with dignity and respect, rather than judging one another based on features of our identity that are likely outside of personal control. Maybe then, we’ll live in a world where kids judge each other based on the content of their character, and not based on demographics like race or gender.