Sometimes I use a dog walker. Roxy, my Black toddler Lab will tolerate being left at home for 2-3 hours, but anything past that makes her anxious and destructive. She, unable to speak English, will find some way (such as tearing apart a favorite trinket bought on vacation or a pair of shoes) to show me her displeasure. So, instead of spending an hour “Roxy-proofing” my home before a long day away, I will pay for a dog babysitter (a fact that I find embarrassing, considering my grandparents always had country-dogs, who ate the slop of what we ate, were not allowed in the house, were not clothed, bathed, or walked (but ran around the fenced yard).
I don’t know much about my dog-walker; I literally picked him up at a dog park. He has beautiful blond hair, with the perfect amount of curl, blue eyes, and a tall lanky frame. He seems to have a beatnik-attitude: not confined by the traditional expectations of life: he likes dogs, so he works with them just enough to earn money to go surfing or skiing.
I spent a little time talking with him outside yesterday, a perfect 70 degree California, March day, as Roxy wandered around on the front yard, sniffing every bush and tree. I casually asked him how Roxy behaved on their adventures that day. We both chuckled as he described her boundless energy and enthusiasm. Roxy is, indeed, an spirited puppy. He then says, “Black Labs are just more wild and hyper than the Yellow Labs.”
Silence, but I’m still smiling.
He adds, “Yea, my good friend has a Black Lab and he’s crazy like Roxy too.”
I actually chuckle. My body immediately feels an uncomfortable pit in my stomach, but my brain didn’t catch up to what he said and its implications until around dinnertime.
His comment was subtle. It is the type of infraction that I believe many people would accuse me of being too sensitive for being disturbed by it. I know, undoubtedly, that my dog walker meant no harm and certainly would be shocked to know that his comment had any impact.
But, it did.
These small biases can make a great impact.
It is illogical to think that the color of a dogs fur would impact its personality or behavior. It’s tantamount to the notion of a “dumb blonde” (I wonder how he would have viewed that!).
His one comment illustrates why I parent with a magnifying glass. I watch every teacher carefully. Why? The most liberal, open, peace-loving people have ingrained biases that will unconsciously affect they way they view and treat others. I’ve never been too concerned with the bold, self-acclaimed racist. They tend to keep their distance. I am more concerned with the well-meaning person, who wears their liberalism with honor, who has these types of biases. We all have biases.
If my dog walker already has the preconceived notion that Black Labs are more hyper than Yellow Labs, he will back-fill his thesis to support it (confirmational bias). At the same time, if a teacher unconsciously believes that Black boys are rowdier, they will notice a Black kid’s poor behavior more quickly than they will a White kid’s? Similarly, if a teacher believes that Asian kids are better at math, they will more quickly advance them to an accelerated math class before a White or Black kid who has comparable grades.
I’ve lived it. When I was close to graduating from high school with a decent GPA, my high school counselor only suggested trade schools and junior colleges to me. While working on my (never earned)Ph.D., I had a professor, who would always ask me to provide “personal experiences” about the hood, absentee fathers, public assistance and other such issues. I’ve been followed in stores to “prevent me from stealing.” My oldest son was initially placed in a lower math class, although he had scored in the 99th percentile on the math portion of a standardized test.
So while, the damage caused by a “Black Lab” bias is negligible; bias’ can be destructive, if we all don’t pay attention. Regularly examine yours. Ask yourself: am I seeing this person without the fog of bias affecting how I interact with them and treat them?
We are scared to discuss bias because we are afraid of being accused of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, etc. We shouldn’t be afraid because we all have biases. If we accept that, then we can spend more time reflecting, growing and ensuring that we are treating people without the fog of them.
Simultaneously, in a world, where perception is everything, I am compelled, perhaps foolishly, to try my best to work against any biases people may have about my children. Undoubtedly, there are African American mothers and fathers everywhere, who spend countless hours, doing whatever they can to prevent their children from being labeled bad, hyper, thugs, slow, etc. We preach good behavior because we know that when they make even the smallest mistake, it may be used to confirm someone’s existing bias. We volunteer, dress them, and lecture them all in an effort to send a clear message: This child is loved, intelligent, kind and we have big dreams for him. See him. Please see him.