Guest Blogger: Kathleen Kerr
As a facilitator and advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) I strive to practice the ACT model – Acknowledge my biases, Challenge my own thinking, and Train my brain to see other options so I can act in ways congruent with my values. And this is still hard. And I am still learning. Here is an example of what I mean.
On a recent trip to Nashville, while in the Washington, DC airport, I am in the TSA security line, or in one of five queues, which lead up to three TSA desks.
While my attention was not fully on the line and who was next, I had done a quick mental count to see when it would be my turn – before I knew it, the TSA agent was calling out, “Next!” and she was looking directly at me. In that split second, behavioral conditioning drove me forward as I did not want to hold up the line. But as the TSA agent was checking my ID against my ticket and ushering me through the line, I realized that a Black woman in the line next to me had been waiting longer than me. If the agents followed the process, i.e., line 1, person one, line 2, person one, line 1, person two, line 2 person two…, she would have her turn, her ID checked, and she would have been on her way through security before me.
It was in that moment I realized how frequently this kind of inadvertent but real occurrence happens and how those of us not suffering in the experience can easily not notice, but for those on the losing end repeatedly, it feels like death by a thousand paper cuts.
The moment passed too quickly, and a few people later, it was her turn. By then, I was through the line and into the x-ray machine. When I had my wits about me to find her and let her know that I saw what happened, she was still on the other side of the x-ray machine. I was unable to catch her eye, and even if I did, how could I convey my thoughts with just a look and no words? That experience bothered me all the way to Nashville and beyond.
Luckily, life has a way of creating endless learning opportunities if only we recognize them and act on the learning opportunity. In an Unconscious Bias training I facilitated recently, I shared this story to illustrate how bias in action affects others and our complicity in the act. It is not enough to be aware of our biases, we must behave differently to create real and sustained change. While I was unable to behave differently in that moment, as one of my girlfriends told me when I shared this story, now, I will be on the lookout for this and next time I will act. And yes, it will be hard, even scary sometimes. Learning is often painful. For now, my job is to lean into the pain and trust that the payoff benefits everyone.