An anecdote of change: Bias can be defeated! Much of our work as DEI professionals amounts to a constant quest to change people’s minds. It might involve persuading your CEO to invest more heavily in your diversity efforts, helping hiring managers understand the importance of creating a diverse pool of applicants, or – as is the case in my work – convincing team members to examine and reject their own biases.
With Spring upon us and (hopefully) the pandemic contemplating a retreat, I thought it time to share a moment of optimism for this work we all share and treasure. This particular moment takes the form of a real-life anecdote of change (and a very personal one at that).
It involves my father. He was, I must admit, what I have termed an “ambivalent racist” for most of his life. Nothing blatant, just the subtle comment here and there – traces of his working-class white culture-immersed upbringing.
A good man, hard-working, talented, but still racism formed a glistening thread in the fabric of his character vibrant enough to be visible from time-to-time in the stray assumption about another’s intentions, abilities, or dreams – all based on the color of their skin.
That is, until the end – the very end. He changed.
His revelation came during the final weeks of his life as he lay dying in a Los Angeles hospital. Somehow, on one visit, the subject of bias came up—I have a vague memory it had something to do with the black man he’d come to know in the hospital during his futile struggle to survive. Out of the blue (or so it seemed), he turned to me and admitted that he had been wrong all his life. “People are people,” he said, “We have to take ‘em all just one person at a time.”
Why the change? I don’t know. Perhaps it was merely the wisdom that can come with age, maybe his own mortality created a crack in his thinking through which the presence of another human being could gain access, maybe (I like to think) his awareness of my own work and point-of-view had an influence. Who knows?
What I do know is that change is possible and your work important. Keep at it and remember, “People are people. We have to take ‘em all just one person at a time.”
The material in this post reflects the ideas expressed in Dr. Thiederman’s book 3 Keys to Defeating Unconscious Bias and in the training videos Defeating Unconscious Bias: 5 Strategies and Gateways to Inclusion: Turning Tense Moments into Productive Conversations.
Sondra Thiederman can be contacted for virtual presentations and panel participation by e-mailing her here or calling 619-583-4478. For additional information, go to the Meet Sondra page on this site.
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