I have had some fascinating discussions off the back of Part 1, so the premise of Part 2 has shifted to present my thoughts on one of these discussions. There might be a Part 3 and Part 4 too.

Race and sex are markers of identity we do not choose, but are visible to all. 

I am South Asian. You can literally see it in my face and you can read it in my name. I could change my name (the Coopers, anyone?) but that has its own set of challenges. I cannot escape it.

I was born male and I do some things that typically identify me as a “man”. I wear “men’s” clothes and shoes. The positive correlation I have kept between my sex and my gender is a relic of history and societal programming, of conservative parents and a suburban context. I will likely keep it this way because it is the easy thing to do to stay in line with the mainstream view, beacause I’m lazy and because I’ve got a bunch of other fights that I want to spend my energy on.

I cannot choose my sex. I cannot choose my race. Yet these are visible to you, and allow you to judge.

You might judge me as I keep my gender in line with my sex, and you might judge me if I had chosen differently (and would probably be more likely to do so).

You might judge me on skin tone. I might be a hard working geek or terrorist or a doctor or whatever mental model you have built of South Asians that look like me to help you cope with the relentless barrage of information — the sensory overload — the world sends your way every moment of every day.

Alas, we need judgement as cognitive shortcuts (commonly called stereotypes) to survive. It is how we make sense of our surroundings. It is how we somehow agree that a poodle and a greyhound are from the same family of animal. It is how our fight or flight response is activated when we see a huge dog with big teeth.

Unfortunately these shortcuts are also what shape our implicit bias against racial minorities (or majorities, in fact) or people who do not conform to our gender norms or people with a disability or… or… or…. We all have them. We unconsciously absorb the nonsense biases baked into the system and, as a result, become an unthinking tool in continuing these biases into the future.

Actively breaking implicit bias is hard, and there is no easy answer to quickly melt away many years of conditioning. The easy thing, the thing our instinctive System 1 wants us to do, is carry on as we are. Thankfully we are thinking beings, able to override our instincts. Continually engage the thinking part of our brains — the System 2 — whenever we encounter those different from us is the only tool I know of that can help us overcome ourselves.

I haven’t read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s much discussed Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. I will, and I will revisit the above once I have.

 

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