Month: March 2017

On Unconscious Bias

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You know, it’s funny. Sometimes, it takes days, weeks, months or even years to reflect on things that have happened to you and decide whether those experiences were good or not. Nearly three months after the event, I find myself offended and saddened by something I ignored at the time. I was on a cruise, about to begin an afternoon of kayaking in New Caledonia. The French kayak company owner tried to start a conversation with me by asking what I thought was “Are you on the cruise?”

He had a rather thick accent and didn’t fully grasp English vocabulary, so I paused before answering, thinking of other possible words of similar phonetics that would apply in this context. I couldn’t come up with any, so I said “Yes”. 

Then later when we had a break, we had another short exchange, and that’s when realisation dawned. He had actually asked me if I was on the *crew*. The ship crew. I didn’t hear him ask anyone else the same question. I was dressed in casual clothes, like everyone else. What was it that made him assume? What was it about my appearance that made me different? Well, I was the only person of colour on the tour. Is that what it was all about? Or am I reading into this too much?

I thought about it some more after learning about these brilliant online tests for unconscious bias and realised that we all have them, and some are more conscious than unconscious! I must say that it’s a sad reflection of the world economy and order that none of the wait staff I encountered on board were Caucasian and yet all of the ship’s entertainment team was, with the exception of one possibly Hispanic dancer (an assumption of my own). My point is this: it’s not enough to admit we have unconscious biases. We have to ask ourselves – why? And what next? Because if we don’t answer these questions, nothing will ever change. And I will never realise my dream of becoming a cruise entertainer!