From the Edge of a Cliff to Under a Bus: Living Under the Dark Skinned Microscope

Have you ever felt like you were being watched?  It’s a creepy feeling.  And then you look up to find someone staring.  Your instincts picked up on the energy and you knew before looking that someone was watching you.  When I encounter implicit bias, it has the same effect.  I know when I’m being targeted with excess negative attention.  I wonder why someone is so concerned about me in my life, when I have zero interest in theirs.  The person comes off as creepy, and likely harbors underlying racist and sexist ideologies about dark skinned males.

Flicr - Bill Strain - Native Male Sitting

There are numerous articles on implicit bias so I’m not going into detail about how it works.  The baseline:  society, community, family low key trains us to look at individuals with biases.  Dark skinned males are always assumed to be criminals so we are watched much closer.  So much so, people keep watching until the slightest mistake occurs and then they attempt to blow it out of proportion.  Fortunately, in my circumstances, the overreaction has been so blatantly noticeable it quickly becomes dismissible and the person looks like a psychopath.

I’d like to write about the above mentioned pattern.  This pattern isn’t something typically covered by the “implicit bias” articles.  It has to do with manifest destiny.  Not the manifest destiny that came out of Europe centuries ago and massacred millions of Native Americans.  But it is akin.  If you believe it, it will come.

What I’ve found in my personal life and work life are repeated, almost predictable, patterns where individuals will attempt to throw me under the bus.  Meaning, they will find the smallest opportunity to try to get me in trouble with superiors.  People believe dark skinned males to be criminal, but when we are more concerned with reading books rather than committing crimes then they subconsciously seek out ways to make us criminals.

What happens?  I have to stay within the lines more so than people around me.  I can see people wasting entire days of time with school work or personal phone calls.  But my entire day is tracked.  I’ll stand from my cubicle and someone will quickly ask, “Are you leaving?”  I’ll say, “No, I’m just going to the bathroom.”  If incidents like this happened in isolation, then I’d dismiss them.  But I have consistently been asked arbitrary questions about what I’m doing. Then it’s contrasted when no one else around me receives the same line of questioning.  This has occurred throughout my entire working and academic career.  Even my bathroom visits receive comments.  I have to time my daily 15 minute breaks at work to be at the exact same time everyday, while other workers can spend hours gossiping.  Those are just some examples of the many I face everyday when I walk out of my door.

It has to do with manifest destiny.  Not the manifest destiny that came out of Europe centuries ago and massacred millions of Native Americans.  But it is akin.  If you believe it, it will come.

Ultimately, it has given me a stronger work ethic.  When everyone is trying to turn you into something you’re not, you become more of who you really are.  I’m a work horse.  Dependable.  And focused.  I show up for my kids.  I’m proud to be a nurturing father.  At the end of the day, my children and my family are the reasons I stay the course.  Implicit bias isn’t going fade away because we are aware.  Most institutions where I’ve worked and attended for my education have trained staff and students on implicit bias.  For a few months afterwards, I get less monitoring and harassment.  But after time passes, it always starts back up again.  Like taking care of my family isn’t enough, I also get the pleasure of walking the edges of a cliff.

12 responses to “From the Edge of a Cliff to Under a Bus: Living Under the Dark Skinned Microscope”

  1. I can really understand what you say here is live in a village outside Aswan and this is precisely what I experience every day from these people. They watch for me to make mistakes. Like you I have had to become stronger within myself. Also I maintain unpredictability.

    Like

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful reply. My own approach to perceived unfair treatment is being very verbal, direct, questioning, wondering aloud, but I not sure I can really recommend it, especially not in an office environment. There’s no end to what people can get petty about. Still, I need to vent it.

    I appreciated you subscribing to my blog Story Reviews, because I read your posts and see we share a number of things (as opposed to the baffling subscriptions of beauty bloggers for instance). I had to close it down and are now slowly working up another blog, Integrity revised – same same stuff. I’d be happy to see you subscribe again.

    All the best!
    Link to Intergrity Revised
    mindfloatings.wordpress.com

    Like

  3. I do get what you’re saying. We have a competitive environment and people will weaponize anything at their disposal. If it were only those who are competitive, then I could agree completely. This happens with people who would never admit to themselves that they are acting on racial or sexist biases. It’s more of a habitual act. Small things throughout the day that they notice in me. But others around them will do the exact same thing and they will never comment. It’s not an issue unless I do it. I guess that’s the implicit bias part of it. It’s not select competitive individuals but a habituation by everyone to pick apart my every action. Much like being examined under a microscope. People have preconceived notions about what I’m supposed to be, as opposed to who I really am. I contradict their perception so cognitive dissonance doesn’t allow them to see the real me.

    Thank you Jules. I hope I’m explaining that correctly. I understand where you’re coming from. I also believe competitiveness exacerbates it. We only advance through cooperation. The system likes us to think competition is needed for any type of advancement. But that’s not the case. Competition is a control mechanism that keeps use policing each other. Cooperation is how we truly advance. Imagine how much more advanced we’d be if we had cooperated at inception. Thank you for your insight. And thank you for getting me to think. Wa’do

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Oscar,

    I don’t intend to deduce in any way from your ideas of how and why, but I’ll just have to say that I can associate to what you describe and I’m without colour, male, Scandinavian. Being tall, I’ve been the target of a lot of short guys – from short aggressive types in the nightlife who wanted a notch in the belt by beating up someone bigger than themselves, to self-assertive fellows in work places who’d do anything to not feel small.

    There are always people waiting around to take a shot at you, always someone ready to take you down. I think it’s human, possibly part and parcel of the social nature we share with a lot of animals.

    Many people seem to believe they can raise themselves by undermining others. One should think you Americans have it worse because of the emphasis on competition and being a winner there, but envy and jealousy and the urge to level is a provincial drive more than anything else.

    Moreover, a lot of people do to others what they didn’t like someone did to them. They pass the demon on.

    It’s not to say that prejudice against your ethnicity doesn’t put you in the crosshairs of more idiots. I’m just saying that implicit bias is likely to be part of a wider issue of how we think and treat each other.

    There are people who seem to dance straight through these issues, though. Some people would call them winners, or successful. I was reading about Khoi-San people, i.e. bushmen. Traditionally they give the best hunters days off. They don’t want anyone at the top. It isn’t to the advantage of the group.

    Anyway, I wish you teflon and humour to ward off the evil eye.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do get what you’re saying. We have a competitive environment and people will weaponize anything at their disposal. If it were only those who are competitive, then I could agree completely. This happens with people who would never admit to themselves that they are acting on racial or sexist biases. It’s more of a habitual act. Small things throughout the day that they notice in me. But others around them will do the exact same thing and they will never comment. It’s not an issue unless I do it. I guess that’s the implicit bias part of it. It’s not select competitive individuals but a habituation by everyone to pick apart my every action. Much like being examined under a microscope. People have preconceived notions about what I’m supposed to be, as opposed to who I really am. I contradict their perception so cognitive dissonance doesn’t allow them to see the real me.

      Thank you Jules. I hope I’m explaining that correctly. I understand where you’re coming from. I also believe competitiveness exacerbates it. We only advance through cooperation. The system likes us to think competition is needed for any type of advancement. But that’s not the case. Competition is a control mechanism that keeps use policing each other. Cooperation is how we truly advance. Imagine how much more advanced we’d be if we had cooperated at inception. Thank you for your insight. And thank you for getting me to think. Wa’do

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The world is becoming increasingly ‘transparent’ so immature human prejudices must be outgrown. Decide to be comfortable and proud of your expression of human diversity and you’ll find attitudes of those around you will begin to change or those who radiate subtle or obvious prejudices will simply disappear from your life. Bless it all. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you Jan. I have much love for you too and your words. You’re a kind person and I wish I could duplicate you a million times over. We can just do our part to make the world a better place. Tell each other stories of our humanness. Like you, I must have faith in our ability to grow and become better people. Relies like yours restores my faith in humanity. Thank you Jan. I’m grateful for your presence.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t click “like” on this. Where is the “sad” or “sorry” button when you need it? I know about “white privilege” and I realize I live it. I pray that I do not exhibit “implicit bias” – but I have not been taught about it… and I have not been given such a poignant explanation as the one you just delivered. I want to wipe away all prejudice from this world and live in “implicit harmony.” But I realize that is not within my power. It is part of my Utopian World where we just “Love One Another” as my JanBeek sub-title suggests. I guess I can only assure you that I do my part the best I know how. And it makes me sad that anyone has to experience what you describe. I pray for a better world, one loving person at a time! I love you, Onokeaho!! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jan. I have much love for you too and your words. You’re a kind person and I wish I could duplicate you a million times over. We can just do our part to make the world a better place. Tell each other stories of our humanness. Like you, I must have faith in our ability to grow and become better people. Relies like yours restores my faith in humanity. Thank you Jan. I’m grateful for your presence.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. That’s a good point. There are a lot of factors at play. You make a good point about hierarchy. People love power and will play toward biases to keep power. It gets creepy at times. Maybe I’ll have to play the creep card on some folks, lol. Sad really. I wish my life was that empty.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I often find with things like this there can be an increase in awareness (reconditioning perhaps) but often the logical result doesn’t happen. The reason can be the workings of power and hierarchy within social groups – the stage within these biases work,if you like. Mix it in with a couple of cognitive biases (when people are presented with facts counter to an existing belief they believe it more strongly) How objective can we be? Despite our best of intentions,perhaps is my question.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a good point. There are a lot of factors at play. You make a good point about hierarchy. People love power and will play toward biases to keep power. It gets creepy at times. Maybe I’ll have to play the creep card on some folks, lol. Sad really. I wish my life was that empty.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m sorry you have to live this way…it’s not right by any stretch of the imagination. I’m an old Southern white woman, and in my younger days saw this in the workplace. But as time went on, saw it less often, then not at all. I don’t know what part of the country you live in, but in my experience, I’ve seen less racial bias in the South than in other areas of the country.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you, Tim. It is a subtle thing. I think many people aren’t aware they’re doing it. There are numerous articles on implicit bias. I’ve gone through several trainings on implicit bias through different work environments. Employers are aware of the phenomenon. I wish awareness was enough. I think it needs to be rehearsed, as a reconditioning. I think companies and educational institutions need to think of it as conditioning, as opposed to a one time training every so many years. And focusing on implicit bias helps everyone. We all come with biases learned from childhood. I do as well. I probably think about it more often than most because I’m usually the only dark skinned male in a particular space. A product of my career and educational choices. I’ve gotten used to it. But if implicit bias was conditioned into us, then it would require conditioning for it to be removed, or lessened.

    Thank you, Tim. I appreciate your thoughts. I hope to see you around.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I often find with things like this there can be an increase in awareness (reconditioning perhaps) but often the logical result doesn’t happen. The reason can be the workings of power and hierarchy within social groups – the stage within these biases work,if you like. Mix it in with a couple of cognitive biases (when people are presented with facts counter to an existing belief they believe it more strongly) How objective can we be? Despite our best of intentions,perhaps is my question.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s a good point. There are a lot of factors at play. You make a good point about hierarchy. People love power and will play toward biases to keep power. It gets creepy at times. Maybe I’ll have to play the creep card on some folks, lol. Sad really. I wish my life was that empty.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Implicit bias will now be added to my list of biases. Had heard but didn’t know the name. I can imagine this whirling into some awful negative dance with hypervigilence (scared of putting a foot wrong and being judged) which also allows people to dismiss it as being paranoid. What an awful addition to every day Life. I’m sure millions experience this, also millions being oblivious, becoming ‘bus throwers’ Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Tim. It is a subtle thing. I think many people aren’t aware they’re doing it. There are numerous articles on implicit bias. I’ve gone through several trainings on implicit bias through different work environments. Employers are aware of the phenomenon. I wish awareness was enough. I think it needs to be rehearsed, as a reconditioning. I think companies and educational institutions need to think of it as conditioning, as opposed to a one time training every so many years. And focusing on implicit bias helps everyone. We all come with biases learned from childhood. I do as well. I probably think about it more often than most because I’m usually the only dark skinned male in a particular space. A product of my career and educational choices. I’ve gotten used to it. But if implicit bias was conditioned into us, then it would require conditioning for it to be removed, or lessened.

      Thank you, Tim. I appreciate your thoughts. I hope to see you around.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I often find with things like this there can be an increase in awareness (reconditioning perhaps) but often the logical result doesn’t happen. The reason can be the workings of power and hierarchy within social groups – the stage within these biases work,if you like. Mix it in with a couple of cognitive biases (when people are presented with facts counter to an existing belief they believe it more strongly) How objective can we be? Despite our best of intentions,perhaps is my question.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s a good point. There are a lot of factors at play. You make a good point about hierarchy. People love power and will play toward biases to keep power. It gets creepy at times. Maybe I’ll have to play the creep card on some folks, lol. Sad really. I wish my life was that empty.

          Liked by 1 person

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