On Unconscious Bias Education

Interviews from The Cut with educators who work on unconscious bias, as today is the day Starbucks closes to teach its workers about said concept.

Once, I did a two-day unconscious bias training for groups of women some years ago. I’d learned that women are more comfortable talking about race around women. In the training, I said, “When you go home tonight, ask your kids if they have ever heard you say something about black people or Hispanic people,” and the women came back the next day with totally different looks on their face. Kids are like tape recorders. One of the mothers came in and said, “Oh my God, there’s an empty lot next to our house, and I noticed one day that one of the kids out there playing with my son was black. I guess I called my son over to the garage and said, ‘Whatever you do, don’t tell Michael where you hide the key to the house.’” And she said, ‘Wow, I didn’t even realize what I was teaching my son.’”

Teachers can, and often do, think that highlighting the accomplishments is a great way to fight bias, and it’s certainly not a bad thing. But when unguarded, do deeper fears and anxieties emerge? Like my French teacher who told me she thought I was “a hoodlum” when she was surprised to see me outside of school. She never did a single outwardly unfair thing in the classroom, but maybe she could have examined herself better with such training.

It’s valuable, and I hope the trainers are successful at Starbucks. It’s worth it, even if the people who want their fix have to get it from a different source today.