Last month I was interviewed for a documentary depicting racial bias and stereotypes in my community. The interviewer asked me what advice I would give to citizens in my community regarding the subject. I shared two words…assume nothing.
I want citizens in our community and citizens of the world to resist their own biases and approach each other as human beings and not as stereotypes. Let me give you some scenarios:
- When you see my children playing in our yard and they wave to you as you cross the street with your dog, don’t ask them if they live there in a condescending tone…Assume nothing.
- When I was test-driving at a car dealership the dealer tried to find the hip hop radio stations. I do love my hip hop, but I bet he wouldn’t have found those stations for my white husband… Assume nothing.
- When I was hired for my dream job someone asked, “how did you ‘swing’ that one?”…Assume nothing.
- When recognized for accomplishments some people have hinted it wasn’t on merit but because “I was the token black person” in the company…Assume nothing.
- When we bought our dream house someone questioned, “How’d you get a loan?”….Assume nothing.
- When I changed my hairstyle some people assumed I was going through an identity crisis…Assume nothing.
I could go on. And on. So many interactions are burdened with racial biases and assumptions. When we all realize the importance of framing a question from a kind hearted, bias-free place our interactions will become less burdened. And, their value will increase exponentially as we break down tensions and barriers that too often characterize cross-cultural interactions.
Instead of asking, “Do you boys live here?” Ask, “Are you little guys new to the neighborhood?” Instead of assuming that because I’m black I like hip hop, ask, “What kind of radio station would you prefer?” Simple congratulations on work well done, a new home, or a promotion can go a long way. On the subject of hair and black women, just commend us for keeping our styles fresh, no identity-crisis intervention team needed.
If you don’t know something, it’s okay to ask. But ask from a place of compassion, free of assumptions. Ask because you care, because you genuinely want to understand. Ask in a way that squashes negative perceptions and allows civility to reign. And, if you have to assume. Assume the best. Always.