In my continual journey of learning about race in America, as I am slowly peeling the layers of this onion apart, I am starting to make a distinction between racism and bias.
I know it might sound like splitting hairs, but hear me out on this.
From our experiences, racism is rooted in hatred. It is burning crosses and spray painting N words, angry threats and intimidation all in the name of hate.
On the other hand, I believe bias is often rooted in good intentions. It is believing in assumptions or stereotypes that we cling to (even when our experiences might tell us otherwise). It is thinking that I know what is “right” or “better” or “good” based on those assumptions.
As the white woman I am, raising a Black Latino son, I will admit that we/he have experienced only a few instances of true racism in his life. I can count them on my fingers. But while racist incidents may have been few and far between, I also know that we experience bias every single day.
Every. Single. Day.
And while the racism we have endured has been done by mostly strangers, the bias we endure comes from acquaintances and friends — sometimes even from family and those we love deeply.
Like the time a family member said of my son when he was in kindergarten, “God I hope he is good in basketball. That will be he way out.” Like a fervent prayer. My kindergartener has not even finished learning to read yet, and already sports were the only “way out.” I wondered why he couldn’t be a scientist, or an author, or TV announcer? And of course, what did he need to be “saved” from? That comment cut deep like a knife, partly because I knew it was made with the very best of intentions.
Or the church member, seeing my infant, exclaimed “He is so beautiful. Did you buy him in Africa?”
Bias. I need to think deeply about this.
What to do … how to respond … when the good intentions do more damage than any hatred ever could.