Do you ever judge a book by its cover?
How about a person by their appearance/clothing/watch/address/accent/skin color?
We all do from time to time; it’s human nature to try to put things into a defined “box” that we understand. Our brains are wired to ‘catalogue’ things/people/places into familiar or unfamiliar and assign positive or negative reactions based on this – these mechanisms are examples of HEURISTICS or mental shortcuts. What do heuristics have to do with BIASES? Our biases are usually sourced in them—we have been exposed certain opinions via people/news/experiences throughout our lives which create quick decisions about something being good or bad. They affect us when we interview for jobs, when we conduct business, and they impact our children from an early age.
Are all heuristics bad? No, they can be helpful. We use them to perform repetitive tasks quicker or to simplify problems or decisions. They also keep us from over-analyzing simple questions so we don’t hold up the line at the coffee shop.d
We are lucky to live in South Florida and enjoy the richness of its diversity of cultures, but it also comes with many of these biases. So, let’s take a look at a couple of them:
- A person driving a nice car has lots of money, right? Maybe/maybe not—maybe they have lots of debt and no money at all but they want people to perceive them as wealthy.
- Conversely, does someone driving an old car have no money? Maybe they’re the ones with the large bank account!
- If someone speaks English with an accent, does that mean they have no education? Many of the most respected members of the community in South Florida came here later in their life and English is not their first language; that doesn’t mean they are not highly educated people.
- If a person doesn’t speak Spanish, does that imply that they do not like Hispanics? It should be easy to learn in Miami, right? Not necessarily; not everyone is able to pick up new languages as easily, and it’s more important that they appreciate the variety of cultures present here than speak the language.
Now, let’s look at a couple of the racial biases caused by heuristics:
- A female African-American woman steps up to help someone needing medical attention—will people around believe she is a doctor or do they need more ‘proof’? This happened recently on a Delta.
- A Hispanic woman wearing jeans and a t-shirt picking up a child at school is Mom or Nanny? This decision might be made based on the jewelry, shoes, or purse she is wearing. This has happened to me, and of course if I do wear the “right” attire, the opposite happens.
…and many many more.
AS PARENTS, WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT THIS?
This is a reality in our lives; our community is diverse, but it is also segregated. While large companies have training programs designed for this and schools try to tackle it, mostly unsuccessfully, many parents say: “I don’t do that and neither do my kids.” Burying your head in the sand will not move the needle so take a look at your own behavior and see how often these biases are applied by you, to you and how your kids may be picking up on them as well.
What YOU and I can do:
- Recognize that these biases exist both in the way we see others and they see us.
- Purposefully seek out activities with your children where they will be exposed to people who are different, highlighting similarities with them as well.
- See everyone for who THEY are – unique in their own way, living under similar or different circumstances from yours.
- Help others see the real YOU, live your values every moment of the day.