It’s not politically correct to talk about race, religion or ethnicity especially in a mixed setting. Immediately you can sense the nervous tapping of pens, the inability to complete sentences and the shifting of feet from one to another. Many of my white friends, many of whom I’ve known most of my life, would respond in disbelief, ‘Come on, it’s not always the race card; times have changed!”
I find myself in a quagmire. I’ve enjoyed a blessed life. With few exceptions, I’ve grown up in a state of color blindness. Even in those instances when I thought race might be a factor when a decision was not to my liking, I could never be sure, because being a person of color, as soon as I walk into a room, my ethnicity is evident. Did I not get the job, promotion or housing because I was not qualified? Did not make enough money? Or as I would like to believe, I did not get the opportunity because there was a candidate who was better prepared. It’s when there is a clear differentiator, with you being the more qualified candidate that the rub is heightened. For anyone, rejection is difficult to endure but when the rejection is the result of a personal bias, misconception, or flat-out prejudice, then that rejection is unfathomable.
In my lifetime, I’ve witnessed extremely well qualified women passed over for promotions in favor of candidates who were much less qualified in both the areas of education and experience. In trying to understand the logic of those decisions, applicants had to accept the fact that hiring managers had the right to choose candidates who they felt would be the best “fit” for their team. There were several traits the non-chosen women had in common; they were extremely bright, master’s prepared, of a certain age, and had a strong vision and laser focus commitment for success. The people who were chosen had less experience, were Generation Xers or in some cases Millenials and appeared to be more amenable to meshing with the corporate culture. In these instances, it appeared to be more of a gender issue than race but it was certainly an issue of bias.
Being a member of a protected class as in the case of white males, or white females in many other aspects of life, provides a myopic view of the world. When planning a trip even within the continental United States, the thought and/or feeling any amount of anxiety because of race or gender is non existant. Being called a denigrating name, or feeling menaced and/or threatened simply because you are a member of a non protected group is a foreign concept for those who are not deemed “different” and it is an occurrence many in the protected class often denies exists.
I truly believe most people are inherently good. Many misconceptions about race, gender, or sexual orientation are the outgrowth of fear, lack of socialization outside of a particular race or ethnicity, disproportionate news coverage and a siloed existence. Because of the prevailing segregation of neighborhoods, and the clannish nature of some cultures, the ability to truly get to know people of divergent nationalities and ethnicities is often missed.
In my first Fortune 500 sales company, I was the first and only female African-American Account Manager in the history of the company. Bear in mind, this did not occur in the 1960’s or 1970’s, this occurred less than 15 years ago. The fact that companies have to have gender, sexual orientation and ethnic driven committees in the workplace is a testament to their commitment to diversity and yet proof that we have a long way to go in order to achieve equality and diversity in the workplace.
The insidious nature of bias cannot be understated. It exists! It is disconcerting and more importantly, it is not just an issue between blacks and whites. Bias comes in all forms and persuasions. In order to begin the road to healing, bias must be given a voice. We cannot change what we fail to admit exists. By giving it a voice the first step on the road to recovery is at hand.