Another phrase that irks me

Yesterday I discussed how much I want to take a certain phrase out back, put a stake through its heart, chop its head off, and burn the body. Today I’m going to share another one that irritates the holy heck out of me. This time though, I’ll skip the guessing game and get down to it.

I hate reading or hearing “I don’t see race”

 

On the one year anniversary of the execution of Michael Brown, Jr. an article at CNN takes a look at the views of several residents of Ferguson, Missouri. The perspectives on display are intriguing, and I think the article is worth reading just to get inside the heads of Ferguson residents. But one of those residents was a police officer who said she “doesn’t see race”:

Police Officer Jill Gronewald, 36, started her job two weeks after Brown’s shooting. She heard a lot of obscenities hurled at the cops; she felt the hatred.

“The protesters hate this uniform no matter who’s in it,” she says. “Am I aware color exists? Absolutely. But when I go out there, I don’t see color. There is a perception we are not listening. But we are.”

The attitudes in Ferguson reaffirmed Gronewald’s beliefs in the need for community policing. She wants very much to be Officer Friendly.

On a recent Sunday she was patrolling Ferguson’s January-Wabash Park when she came across an older African-American man fishing with his grandson. He had just gained custody of him. Gronewald did not ask about the circumstances that resulted in the boy not being with his parents. She cherished the moment: a man with a child, enjoying nature, finding peace in something as simple as catching catfish.

It’s her idea of how everyone should be in Ferguson “after MB.”

Grrrr….

Look, Officer Gronewald, you can say “I don’t see color” all you want, but the fact is that we all see race. We are not in control of all our perceptions. There are things that go on in the little meatsacks we call brains that we have no clue about. Among those many things are biases-prejudices that we are often ignorant of. These biases affect us on a subconscious level and influence our interactions with people of color. You, and all other law enforcement officials, need to read up on implicit racial biases:

Defining Implicit Bias

Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.

The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.  These associations develop over the course of a lifetime beginning at a very early age through exposure to direct and indirect messages.  In addition to early life experiences, the media and news programming are often-cited origins of implicit associations.

A Few Key Characteristics of Implicit Biases

  • Implicit biases are pervasive.  Everyone possesses them, even people with avowed commitments to impartiality such as judges.

  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but distinct mental constructs.  They are not mutually exclusive and may even reinforce each other.

  • The implicit associations we hold do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse.

  • We generally tend to hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup.

  • Implicit biases are malleable.  Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.

You, your co-workers, and your superiors need to be aware of these biases. You all need to undergo ongoing training to identify these biases and work to overcome them. The reason I single you LEO’s out is because ya’ll are in a unique position of power and authority over civilians. Does the civilian population of the US have these biases? Hell yes. But average citizens do not have the authority and power over other civilians the way cops do. While the not-cops of the country can and do indeed act upon these biases, they cannot fuck over the lives of People of Color in the way a law enforcement officer can. LEO’s have the state-sanctioned power to detain, arrest, and even kill. They have the state-sanctioned power to use all manner of violence against civilians if the situation is dire enough. And that’s why understanding one’s biases are important-because so many people don’t realize the hidden prejudices that lead them to think, for instance, that black people are inherently criminals. This type of thinking causes many cops to react with violence far more swiftly when dealing with black suspects, and we see this time and time again in case after fucking case across the U.S. We just saw it a few days ago with Christian Taylor, a young college student who feared that he would have his life cut short due to police violence and sure enough, it happened.

Fact is, Officer Gronewald, the reason I hate the phrase “I don’t see color” is because yes, you do see color. I see color too. Pretty much everyone in this country sees color. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. I don’t mind if people see my race. I have nothing to hide and feel no shame over my race. But don’t judge the quality of my character based on my skin color. That is the problematic part: judging people based on the color of their skin. When white supremacists judge black people as inferior beings deserving of death, that’s where the problem is. When conservative politicians and their constituents think that only black and brown people are on welfare, that’s where the problem is. When black and brown people are arrested and convicted of drug use despite the fact that white people use drugs at the same rate, that’s where the problem is. These are all problems because race is being seen and people are making judgments based on race. Perhaps not on a conscious level (not all the time anyway), but race does play a role-a significant one. And people, especially police officers need to be aware of how they’re seeing the race of people they interact with so they can work to combat their prejudices.

Educate yourselves cops. If you’re going to serve and protect people, inform yourselves. Do better. Be better. Because I’m goddamn tired of your biases and trigger fingers causing the deaths of ethnic minorities.


 

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Another phrase that irks me

2 thoughts on “Another phrase that irks me

  1. 1

    “Am I aware color exists? Absolutely. But when I go out there, I don’t see color.

    You talked about how everyone is aware of race, but should work on the implicit biases this might invoke.

    And yet it seems to me that is exactly what she is saying above. (I have no idea if it is what she is actually doing, obviously.) She is aware of race, but she acts (or tries to, or at least claims to) as if race doesn’t exist. Which seems to mean that she is aware of the fact that this often influences people.

    No doubt she could have worded that much better, but I can’t see how to interpret that as a claim that implicit bias doesn’t exist. (And I would not be surprised in the least if there’s still a lot of implicit bias that influences her actions – as you say, there’s a lot of that around and it’s hard to avoid.)

    Also, I don’t doubt there are lots of people using that phrase in exactly the way you criticize. But just like PC, or lots of other phrases, few people are aware of all the baggage a phrase carries. English is not my native language, and I still often shake my head at how people whose it is misuse English phrases, or demonstrate in other ways that they have problems understanding their own language. No doubt I sometimes do, too. The problem with not knowing this kind of stuff is that you don’t usually know that you don’t know it. (Wasn’t that, or something close, the concept behind the unknown unknowns?)

  2. 2

    khms:

    You talked about how everyone is aware of race, but should work on the implicit biases this might invoke.

    Yes, bc being aware of race doesn’t mean someone is aware of the subconscious biases they hold about race.

    And yet it seems to me that is exactly what she is saying above. (I have no idea if it is what she is actually doing, obviously.) She is aware of race, but she acts (or tries to, or at least claims to) as if race doesn’t exist. Which seems to mean that she is aware of the fact that this often influences people.

    I think you’re reading something into her words that isn’t there. She makes no indication that she’s aware of having biases against anyone. She’s aware of race, yes. But in this culture, when people say they don’t see race, or don’t try to see race, it’s almost always people that aren’t aware of the biases they have that cause them to see race. It’s subconscious, and unless she actually makes note of it-and she did not-there is no reason to believe she is aware of them. Most people aren’t. It’s not like implicit racial bias is something commonly known. Which is part of my point-it needs to be.

    In addition, acting like race doesn’t exist is something that doesn’t help to confront racial bias. That’s part of the other reason I dislike arguments about colorblindness. People who “don’t see race” won’t be as able to recognize how race affects other people. I’ve seen many people claim that they don’t see the color of peoples’ skin. But if you don’t do that, how are you to acknowledge the systemic racism and discrimination that affects People of Color? You *have* to acknowledge race to acknowledge the effects of race. You just don’t judge people based on race.

    No doubt she could have worded that much better, but I can’t see how to interpret that as a claim that implicit bias doesn’t exist.

    Perhaps you misunderstood me-I’m not saying that she doubts IRB exists. I’m saying that she doesn’t appear to know that she holds these subconscious biases.

    But just like PC, or lots of other phrases, few people are aware of all the baggage a phrase carries.

    Oh, I’m sure that’s the case. And that’s part of the problem. People are using phrases they do not wholly understand. Like my other post in which I criticized the use of PC, many of the people who use the phrase cannot elucidate what it even means. They throw the phrase around willy-nilly, and it’s always targeted at things they don’t like. But they don’t explain *what* PC is or how the object of their criticism is an example of PC. They also have a false idea of what PC even is, bc so often they apply the label of PC to things they think qualify as censorship. Like Ben Carson for instance. He decried the criticisms facing Donald Trump over the latter’s racist comments about Mexican immigrants. Carson said in effect that the criticism of Trump was censorship. But it wasn’t. The criticism of Trump is that he made racist comments and people would like him to recognize that those comments were racist, as well as apologize and work to stop saying racist things. None of that is censorship. Neither Ben Carson, nor any of the other politicians who use the phrase PC ought to be using it unless they can identify the problem that have with someone’s words and how that problem is an example of PC.

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