Uncovering Biases

I live in Northbrook which is a predominantly White suburb. While I was aware that people in different areas have lived a variety of experiences, I was been blind to the true nature of these differences and the reasons behind them. The North Shore bubble has inadvertently blinded me to the true nature of other people’s lived experiences and while I was aware of people in different areas to an extent, I still had much to learn. 

In the spring, the killing of George Floyd reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and a series of protests. My research behind the movement opened my eyes to a world of systemic inequalities that was hidden from me up to this point. My understanding of the historical and current experiences of Black people in America wasn’t enough, so for my SAMO, I delved deeper into researching the health and housing inequalities in America.

My family and I go downtown once a month with our temple to deliver food to the homeless. It is always so astonishing to me to see how many people are forced to live in tents on the side of busy streets no matter what the  temperature is. It also shocked me that out of the 40 or so lunches that we delivered most recently, we only delivered lunch to one White person. All of the other people who were put in a position where they were forced to live on the street were Black.

Going to the city and seeing the true extremities of what living on the street consisted of truly baffled me. My family and I always have a conversation about needing to help others and the sadness it brings us to see people living on the street. I felt ashamed to admit this at the time, but seeing people being forced to live on the side of busy roads made me very uncomfortable. I was ashamed at the discomfort I felt because I knew these people were human beings on the inside, they just seemed very different from me because of their lived experiences. However, I can take what I learned in CST from Margret Wheatley in Willing to Be Disturbed when she expresses that, “It’s not differences that divide us. It’s our judgments about each other that do curiosity and good listening bring us back together” (3). This instance shed light on the harmful implications of my implicit bias. Going forward, I now realize in order to change my bias, I have to see through the lens of other people, even when it is uncomfortable. However, it was my inexperience that pushed my “curiosity” and forced me to go to the city and have a hands-on experience with people who lived completely different lives that I have been living. By doing so, I was able to shape my perspective and not base my beliefs on preconceived judgments about who they were and “bring us back together” as human beings instead of having that divide based on lifestyles. I now can use what I have learned to be conscious of my biases when in future situations with people who are different from me.

This exploration led me to research the reasoning behind these housing inequalities and why there are such great disparities between Black and White people. I found a documentary on Amazon Prime called Owned: A Tale of Two Americas which explored the history of neighborhoods in America and racial zoning, which began as early as the early 1900s.  As a history nerd, I highly recommend this documentary, it was very intriguing. 

I first learned about redlining in my US History class last year. I learned about White and Black people living in different neighborhoods and the existing  economic disparities between the two. This documentary explained the beginning of redlining which began when the first neighborhoods were created. Levittown was the first mass-produced neighborhood which was built in 1947, however it banned Black families from living there. White families could now afford cheaper housing in a comfortable area, whereas Black citizens were stranded to fend for themselves. 

Before watching this documentary, I always thought redlining was an economic and cultural issue, so I was shocked that politics were involved. I discovered that the federal government actually helped enforce redlining and shape the divided nature of our country. The federal government was allowed to decide which areas were insured and which were not. The government only insured mortgages in more developed areas, predominantly White communities, and did not insure areas where more Black people lived. Since these areas weren’t protected by the federal government, banks refused to lend money to people living in more underdeveloped areas. In simple terms, White people were allowed to loan money from a bank (to buy a house, car, go to college), while Black people were not able to loan money from a bank causing a huge divide between races in the US.

A before and after of Cabrini Green when it was destroyed – Photo by Chicago Gang History – https://www.chicagoganghistory.com/housing-project/cabrini-green/

While there have been attempts to fix the housing divide, many have been overturned. On a past family trip to the city, we drove through a beautiful neighborhood that my mom said used to be a public housing area called Cabrini-Green. The city decided to build a series of apartments for people who couldn’t afford average rents to live in for a cheaper price. However, these apartments were later seen to be on ‘expensive land’ since it had a scenic view of the Chicago skyline, and this desperately needed neighborhood was destroyed in order to construct a more high-end area. This is claimed to be an act of systemic genocide because “when they uproot the neighborhoods, they uproot the communities living in those neighborhoods” (Owned: A Tale of Two Americas).

This discovery was shocking to me. I had researched the racial divide in Chicago before, however, I was disgusted to learn that the government deliberately destroyed people’s homes in order to make money. I will use this knowledge in future conversations, even more so in conversations about the racial divide in Chicago. Black families have tried to use government assistance to get proper housing and break the housing gap, however every time they tried to bridge that divide, the government pushed them down again. It saddens me that just my own beliefs cannot in itself change the government as a whole. However, I can use my examination of others’ lived experiences and lifestyles to further empathize with others and remind people in conversations that their opinion doesn’t stand alone. Everyone has biases, and since I have been taught to recognize my biases, I can help others recognize their own as well. This discovery widened my perspective because now I can see the government’s role in the societal divide in my own city. Although this is not the end of my research of recognizing racial biases and the history of racism, these skills will allow me to approach the world with a more open perspective. 

Many of these economic inequalities uncover the underlying reasonings for the health inequalities in our medical system today. The paper, Structural Racism and Health Inequalities by Gilbert C. Gee and Chandra L. Ford delves deep into the beginnings of structural racism.

Me reading Structural Racism and Health Inequalities – Photo by Alivia Klinghofer

The paper begins by defining structural racism. To explain it in simpler terms, it compares it to an iceberg; The tip of the iceberg is blatant racism, such as the existence of the KKK and saying derogatory words. Below the tip of the iceberg lies an even more chunk of ice that consists of even more dangerous and less detectable instances of racism which has allowed racism to still be prevalent in our world today. While people can pass policies that can change the ‘tip’ of the iceberg, such as the 15th Amendment which gave Black people the right to vote, there are still thousands of underlying instances that have continued the discrimination systemic racism in our country for over 150 years.

A movie I watched on Amazon Prime called Sorry Aint Enough allowed me to delve even deeper into instances of systemic racism (things underneath the “tip” of the iceberg) that have occurred despite affirmative action. This movie displayed a potential court case between Black Americans demanding reparations to be paid back to those individuals affected by systemic racism by the US federal government and the corporations involved. The prosecutors were demanding the the government and corporations tied to slavery be held accountable for their actions. Although the results of the court case weren’t disclosed in the movie, the countless arguments made by the prosecutors helped me understand the intensity of discrimination that occurred after 1860, when the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

The following were listed as claims in the debate:

  • The Black Holocaust in 1921 where thousands of Black Americans were killed in riots. 15,000 people were left homeless and forced out of the town.
  • The Red Summer during the summer of 1919 where 76 African Americans were reportedly lynched in 26 race riots.
  • The Jim Crow laws that enforced segregation despite slavery being banned.
  • The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments when African American males were used as laboratory animals and were abused.

There was one point the prosecutors made that really stuck out to me: there has been an economic gap for years. They need reparations for the debt that has yet to be repaid. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed which freed the slaves. However these newly freed people were left to fend for themselves. Without education. Without money. Without government assistance. 

This blatant disregard for the immediate disadvantage that Black people had compared to White individuals who had access to all tools needed to be successful for years prior made me disgusted.

As a student, I felt baffled because in school, I had learned about the Jim Crow Laws, but that was it. I had always just thought that was because the South was racist, but after hearing that all of these instances of systemic racism happened despite “government action” I now believe the government “acting” is a load of garbage. How could the federal government specifically neglect so many people’s well beings? I realized that this “government action” to change the “tip of the iceberg” was all for show and the government has yet to do any systemic change to change the root of the problem, which is underneath the iceberg itself. This realization completely shaped my understanding of how the government accommodates its citizens. I’ve learned one side of history in school. After my research, I now have been exposed to different situations and problems that the government has continued to neglect despite its continued harm towards Black communities.

Structural Racism and Health Inequalities” explains the connection between societal inequities and health inequities. W. E. B. Du Bois, an American civil rights activist and one of the founders of the NAACP, notes that, “the death rate and sickness are largely matters of [social and economic] condition and not due to racial traits and tendencies” (276). The paper goes on to explain the implication that job inequalities have on health outcomes for Black Americans. David Jacobs, explains in “Environmental Health Disparities in Housing” that, “Repeated hospitalizations for childhood asthma are correlated with children residing … crowded housing conditions, largest number of racial minorities, and highest neighborhood-level poverty” (9). The continued governmental neglect to provide proper housing for a huge group of minorities has created such an impact on their lives, not only on social health, spirals and ends up affecting their physical health and well being. 

I live in Northbrook, again, a predominantly White town and Bobbie Harro’s Cycle of Socialization allows me to clearly see why I have yet to realize the unfortunate reality of the world. Harro states that, “by participating in our roles as agents, and remaining unconscious of or being unwilling to interrupt the cycle, we perpetuate the system of oppression” (19). Before beginning to go to the city with my family I had been unconsciously living in a “system of oppression” and contributing to it by not “interrupting the cycle” and recognizing the injustices. Now that I have learned this reality, my disturbance and shock will allow me to approach conversations with my friends and family in a productive manner. After now discovering the reality of the world, I will allow myself to act in a and use my voice and my privilege to benefit the world and make steps toward change. 

Margaret Wheatley engages with this question in her paper Willing to Be Disturbed as she states, “We’re comfortable with our lives, and if we listened to anyone who raised questions, we’d have to get engaged in changing things” (page 3). By questioning societal norms and societal inequalities we ourselves “raise questions” about the state of our world. Collectively, these actions help in “changing things” and allow for a productive transition to an equal society.

After embarking on this journey of research and experience,I will be able to approach the world with a new understanding of different perspectives. Many people say we live in the “North Shore Bubble.” Personally, I have always been defensive when I heard that term because I was unwilling to learn what that “bubble” actually encompassed. After doing this research I now realize that people who are Black have had a completely different history than those who are White and that history constructs a completely different socialization for an individual. Now understanding how a person’s history has such a significant impact on one’s socialization, I can understand my own socialization in a better way. Although my privilege as a White female has benefited me in my life, my history of being a minority has allowed my socialization to be constructed in different ways, not that one history or development is better than another, it is just different. And that itself is what makes humans different. Although my socialization is different from other people, I need to recognize the differences and not let those differences come in between anyone living less happy of a life than others. I can use this opportunity to push outside my comfort zone as a way to examine other peoples’ experiences and then use my knowledge to educate others and create a more equitable society. Even if I am just one person and my action alone won’t automatically change the world, I can use my newfound knowledge to educate others to help break down biases and that in itself will make the world better than it was before.

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Understand Your Worth

My friend and I were walking down a street near my house one humid night last summer. Minding our own business, we laughed and chatted in jean shorts and tank tops. Some men in their twenties drove down the street and yelled, “nice a**” and “looking good ladies,” followed by a cackle of laughter by the other members in the car. Embarrassed and self-conscious, my friend and I ran back down the street to my house, immediately changed into sweatpants and a sweatshirt, and sat on the couch for the rest of the day.

As a 17-year-old, this was my first experience personally being sexualized by men, but sadly women experience situations like this daily. We live in a society where men have an overwhelming amount of power over women both socially and politically. Women feel pressured to dress the way that men characterize as “sexy” and “attractive.” In turn for feeling attractive and confident, women are attacked with unwanted comments from men. This leads to an unequal power dynamic and makes it hard for women to be their true selves without apprehensions.

I went to a temporary exhibit in Chicago called “Womanish” that was constructed based on female empowerment and self-expression. There, I was immediately immersed in a three-story building full of naked mannequins, bananas, and peaches which were labeled as “private parts.” First I was shocked and uncomfortable because I usually am uncomfortable when I see girls wearing little to no clothing. Socially, I have been taught that girls showing lots of skin are “whores” or “skanks.” I was so confused with why I was uncomfortable; I was in a room full of only women, embracing their femininity while posing next to the statues of naked women. I then understood that I was uncomfortable with this new environment because the women in the museum were embracing their femininity and bodies in a positive way. Normally, I feel so self-conscious about the way people view me, but in a room full of all women, I was empowered to be my true self without any social constraints. 

 I realized that in a room full of women, I could truly be myself. I noticed the different ways women were acting now that men were not around. The womanish museum taught women to embrace their bodies and femininity while bringing to light the problem that our society has set by letting men decide how women should act and be.

To further my research about the power balance between genders, I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Feminists What Were They Thinking?”. In this documentary, multiple women, who were involved in the feminist movement over a variety of decades, were interviewed about their lives and how they grew their feminist perspective. These women talked about how men assume the authority to be condescending to women in order to continue the unequal power dynamic in daily life. Lily Tomlin shared how she began to be a feminist what she left her childhood home. She knew that it was not right for men to be condescending to women, but she often found herself in situations where men would say rude or sexist things to her and she would “have the feeling to laugh it off to make the man feel comfortable.” I can think of countless times that I have brushed things off to avoid confrontation because, at the moment, I am shocked about what has been said. When those men yelled at me and my friend down the street, instead of confronting the situation, I took it upon myself to feel shame about how I was dressed.

 To understand why women feel this way, I researched the reasons behind the submissive tendency to not confront offensive actions from men. A Harvard Business Review Article teaches people skills that can be used to disrupt sexist conversations. In order to break out of the Cycle of Socialization, both men and women need to act as allies and work together to call out these offensive actions and dismantle the harmful prejudices. Even if disturbing this norm could lead to uncomfortable situations, calling people out and allowing others’ to change their perspective on how to treat people will improve society as a whole. The only way to break this cycle of socialization is to call out these inequalities which will create a wholesale change of the power dynamic. This can be done by calling people out for their actions and acknowledging their words aren’t right. If I am ever put in that type of situation again, I will acknowledge my worth as a woman and not feel shame based on how I dress. 

While researching the power dynamics between men and women, I had to connect the political aspect of gender inequality as well. A few days ago, Kamala Harris, the first female Vice President, was elected into office. While this is a monumental step for women and the role that women play in politics, there is still a gigantic discrepancy between the representation of men and women in political power. A study done by the Center for American Women and Politics found that the percentage of women holding political roles is under 30%. 

That means the people in power, representing the entire nation, are not truly representative of half of the true population. How can a group of people, with the majority being men, be in charge of making laws that determine what women can and cannot do? 

I watched a documentary on Netflix called “Reversing Roe” that talked about the political disputes about abortion in the United States. The documentary featured women from all over the country fighting for equal representation in the government. I believe that it is the woman’s right to choose what is best for her body, but what seemed crazy to me was that the people making these decisions were men and not women. 

In CST, we are continually asked the question of “how do individuals or groups initiate change when society’s assumptions and biases result in injustice?”. Through my explorations and the Cycle of Liberation by Bobbie Harro, I learned that the core of this cycle is self-love and self-esteem. Women need to have the confidence, not just in a Womanish exhibit with only other women, but everywhere in their lives, to be and love their truest selves. Seeing women like Kamala Harris in positions of power shows me that I have the power to do anything a man can do. My SAMO experience taught me the importance of self-love, and from this, I will be able to work on my self-esteem in order to secure the core of my cycle of liberation and work towards gender equality.