The Innocence of Bias and Stereotyping

Posted by Jane, 05 Apr

Light-hearted anecdotes and stories from my life.

Being raised in London as a black girl has been a mixed bag of experiences. Whilst I’ve been fortunate enough to make it this far without personally experiencing any direct racism, I know that many others have had to deal with it frequently and quite openly.

However, what has always fascinated me is how people of other races get so uncomfortable when dealing with the issue of race. Either that or they display otherwise levels of ignorance that makes everyone consider just how biased we all are.

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Every single person has biases, whether they wish to admit it or not. Usually the people who display the least bias are simply those who know what their bias tenancies are and so actively and consciously factor that in to the judgments they make. Others have failed to do so and when this happens it can be either be hilariously funny or just plain rude.

I went to a mostly white all-girls’ private school where each school year we would all be required to dust off our blazers and traipse down the road to ‘Chapel’ for an hour long service involving heavy Hymn books and lots of organ playing. It was like Songs of Praise, but worse. One year my two (black) friends and were whinging to our very cool white male form tutor, Mr W., about having to go.

“Couldn’t we just hide in the locker rooms and read instead”, we joked.

His response stunned us all.

“You girls should like all this kind of stuff”.

“All what stuff?” I asked, baffled.

“You know, all this church and singing and stuff,” he replied.

We all looked at each other knowingly and said nothing, fighting back laughter. Mr W. began to turn pink around the neck, and my most fearless friend looked him dead in the eye and said “Why, because we are black?”

“Well...yeah” he said. We three girls erupted with laughter as it dawned on him what he had just said and how ridiculous it was.

On another occasion we were running really late for our afternoon lesson. We had been out on the fields and just taken a really long time coming back. As we prepared our apologies, we timidly opened the door and entered the class. Before we could even voice our various well-rehearsed excuses, our teacher waved us in.

“Come in girls, don’t worry. You were out at gospel choir, weren’t you?”

We paused, confused. Firstly, we weren’t in the gospel choir. Secondly, gospel choir wasn’t even running that term. We had a choice: Either we make a stand and correct him, losing our excuse; or we go with it and allow that monumental display of ignorance to slide. We were no fools. We took our seats quietly and spent the rest of the lesson crying in silent laughter whenever we made eye contact.

Now obviously, these were not comments made deliberately to offend and so we could brush them off at the time. Now I’m an adult, it makes me a little more annoyed but I know we all do it. Hopefully, we all start to realise what assumptions we make about people and learn to leave them at the door whenever we are presented with an opportunity to create a ‘foot-in-mouth’ moment.

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