How often do you think about the colour of your skin?
If you’re white like me and live in Canada, my guess is that your answer is probably rarely. I may think about my whiteness every few weeks or months. If you ask a person of colour this same question you will likely hear they regularly think about their skin colour — perhaps every day. The reason is that they live in a world of ‘white privilege’ and wonder whether the words, actions or decisions by others have anything to do with their skin colour.
When they apply for a job, was the decision about who was appointed based on the colour of their skin?
When someone is rude to them, was it because they aren’t white?
When a person cuts in front of them, was it because they don’t look like most people in their community?
I don’t wonder whether my skin colour is the reason I am stopped at the highway check stop, if someone doesn’t speak to me in the store, or if I am bypassed for service at a coffee bar. There are surely reasons for all of these things happening, but it’s not because I’m white.
Maybe you’re thinking that I’m exaggerating or perhaps even completely wrong. If that’s the case, you’re wrong. Racism exists — it’s in our stores, in our offices and in our schools. People of colour experience it — they also think about it regularly — more than a person who is white.
“OK, so we still have a long ways to go in our society to build equality. I get that. But, that doesn’t make ME a racist. I don’t do anything because of a person’s skin colour. I’m not part of the problem.”
We all categorize things — it’s how we sort our world and make sense of it. Good things over here — bad things over there. Similar things in this box — other things in another box. Even Sesame Street encourages us to sort our world.
We also categorize people. Yes, we do. All of us. Sometimes we assign them a description without knowing enough. And, if you think you don’t do that — you’re wrong.
We read a news article about a person and consciously assign intent or bias
We see someone speeding down the road and label them as dangerous and thoughtless
We dislike someone’s decision so, therefore, that person ‘just doesn’t get it’
We all do it. But, why?
It’s easier to assign intent to others which then justifies our own bias — the other person is either in-line with our own thinking and an ally, or their intent is misguided and they are an adversary.
By assigning intent without inquiring about it, we limit the amount of time we need to put into understanding someone.
Pick a topic, especially one that has a pretty clear line of delineation — global warming, poverty, systemic racism are three that come to mind. All three have some pretty polarizing viewpoints. It’s easier to align oneself with those who are similar to yourself and also assign blame or ignorance to those who are not.
Don’t believe me?
Let’s take a look at social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I wrote a Nov 2020 blog post about how social media platforms have algorithms that use Artificial Intelligence to find persons who are aligned with your way of thinking. Your clicks, swipes and pauses all help shape the opinions you see on these platforms. Social media builds your belief that many others think just like you — it’s a main reason why the platforms are so popular.