9/22/2018 – On Implicit Bias

This week a neighbor hired me to do headshots for himself and his business partner. I told my sister about the shoot, expressing some jitters around posing and directing two men in familiar but not-too-familiar ways. It’s something I’ve never done before and I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like.

And I still don’t know what that would look like because the business partner is a woman.

That right there, is implicit bias. I was never told the gender of the business partner and so, based on everything my brain contains about who business partners are and what they are like, I made the assumption that this man’s business partner was also male. Somewhere deep down in my brain lies the belief that business partners are male because that’s what I was told or that’s what I saw. A little pocket of sexism residin’ up in my noggin. I probably won’t make that same mistake again, but there will be others because noticing this addresses the branch but it doesn’t eliminate the root.

I first heard the term Implicit Bias when I began reading and learning about race relations in America. My studies had helped me to see slivers and cords of racism manifested by people I know and care about, and I didn’t know how to reconcile the overall character of the person with the things they said about other people based on where they were from or the color of their skin. Implicit Bias doesn’t excuse these harmful statements and acts, but it does give us a starting point for the Why.

Why? Because we are all a complicated byproduct of our upbringing and surroundings. We start absorbing as babies and it never stops. The work to identify and address our personal implicit biases is difficult because we generally don’t know they are there until we are forced to confront them head-on. And it’s hard to be honest about these parts of ourselves that we don’t like. I am carrying around elements of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and all sorts of other -isms and -ias. I don’t like this, but they will never be addressed through denial or whitewashing.

If I had let shame and guilt take the reigns I wouldn’t have been able to be honest with myself about what this was. Be willing to be honest with yourself about yourself. If you’ve said or done something harmful and now you recognize it, stop. Apologize if you have someone to apologize to. And then make clear to yourself what you did in the past, why you didn’t like it, and how you’re going to change in the future. This is good work, the kind that grates as you go through it but makes you feel strong and improved on the other side. I’ll show you what it looks like.

Past: When a client referred to their business partner I assumed the business partner was male.

Why I dislike this: It felt diminishing for that woman specifically, and for all women. It indicates that when a certain job needs to be done, I unconsciously fill in that role with a male. Imagine if I was in a position to procure talent for a specific position, I don’t want to be defaulting to male to make the candidate fit my preconceived notions.

Future: I believe writing this post will be enough to help me adjust my thinking in the future. I might not be able to stop the thought from bubbling up, but I can catch it and address it much faster next time.

9/17/2018 – On Screwing Up

Taking on the PTA President position was a very quick shift from Solo Actor to Team Player. For almost a decade now almost all of my efforts have been self-directed and generally self-focused. Now I’m Team Captain, and I’m feeling not just the weight of tracking all the moving pieces, but also (especially) that of recognizing or acknowledging the many ways that I screw up. And learning to do so frankly, without dwelling, without excuses.

Yesterday, a Sunday, I began the day at my parent’s house in central WA. I photographed my cousin and her new husband in their wedding attire and felt confident and excited about what I created for them. Drove home, packed up, and made it out the door just after 1pm to get back to Seattle with some extra time to spare before a 5pm meeting with my PTA board.

Except I forgot that driving back to Seattle on a Sunday afternoon always stretches longer than anticipated because all of the other people trying to get back to the city before Monday morning.

And my meeting was at 4pm, not 5pm.

I had said “4pm? That’s great. I’ll be there.” I said those words out loud and then I wasn’t there. Everyone else made time in their weekend, arranged with their partners to handle the kids so we could gather, at my house. The meeting was at my house and I was an hour late.

My husband jumped right in and set up the team to work at my dining room table in my absence. I spent the last hour of the drive talking through the voices in my head telling me I’m a stupid idiot, that everyone else manages to juggle their life enough to be where they say they’ll be, that this particular indiscretion was egregious and outrageous and indicative of many faulty things about me.

This particular form of accountability, accountability to a demanding and complicated group effort, comes with a lot of opportunities to own up to the ways I fall short of my intended Self. Once I calmed down the Inner Critic I was able to think more clearly about what I can do to prevent a mistake like this in the future. This one, being an hour late to that particular meeting? That’s done. The roads are what they are and the speed limits are what they are, and there was nothing I could do but walk in my own front door to a team of volunteers diligently plugging away in my front room. I immediately apologized, they immediately reassured me that it was fine – but I wanted them to know that I don’t find it okay to operate that way. Integrity is one of my core values and I hadn’t lived up to their expectations of me, and my expectations of myself.

I’m not going to dwell on my mistake, that doesn’t do anyone any good. I’m checking my calendar morning and night now to make sure I firmly understand what I’ve committed to the following day. I’ll be budgeting four hours for the Sunday afternoon drive back to Seattle from now on. I’ll extend grace and compassion when others are late or absent. I’ll extend that same grace and compassion to myself.