Thursday, October 23, 2014

Some thoughts about discrimination and bias

Public attention is a privilege. Babies, trolls, grifters and misbehaving dogs know this and are unashamed of doing anything they can to wrench themselves into being noticed. Discrimination is rarely so bald faced as is depicted in the media or in anti-harassment policies. Similar to micro aggressions this slew of semi-conscious choices about who we listen to and why ads up over time and eventually becomes the cultural force known as fame and public opinion.

The problem here is that the slate is never clean for any of us. Before you even think about speaking the people you speak with have already made years of those semi-conscious choices about people who, while not you, were something like you or associated with issues that are central to what you want to state publicly. Many people have to re-teach or convince others to unlearn what they have already learned just in order to be given the privilege of being heard.

As I have written on before, being heard is a privilege and listening to someone is a gift. When people talk about social capital this is part of what they are talking about. It's much more complicated than "like" or "dislike". It's about trust and the people opening their listening to someone.

I know a lot of people that speak think and write critically about capitalism. And I wonder if this is something that they think about, because listening and public attention are also a life resource. One that many people need to be realized as fully human. for instance if I didn't have friends or a therapist to listen to me and give my space to explore my ideas then I'd have developed in a very different way as a person.

Humans are social animals we seek validation and community. What we rarely acknowledge is the fact that some people have more easy access to this resource than others. It's tips its hand into obviousness when we see the stats about high conviction rates for black and latin@ folks in criminal court (because their word is less trusted). And in moments when the reaction to a rape or harassment accusation is to defend the perpetrator.

Now I'm not trying to offer folks who do this a free pass on racism or rape apology (cause they don't get one from me). But I am interested why they chose to trust one party over the other. And again, it's not about the likability of any of the parties involved or the activities described, it's about being lulled into making the same choices you have in the past because and following those semi conscious choices. It's about trying to map this experience they are hearing about onto a familiar neural pathway of trusting people who are or look like those thy have trusted in the past and distrusting the people who are or look like those they have distrusted in the past.

I don't understand everything about discrimination, but this is one of the mechanics I see at work within it.

No comments:

Post a Comment