Not so Hidden Bias

A while back I was attending a rugby referee clinic. One presentation was about the ref’s role in reducing the potential for injuries. To make his point, one of the facilitators referred to a particular game he had officiated.

The ball was kicked high into the air. The fullback, who wasn’t very big, was in position to catch it, and this great big aboriginal guy was bearing down on him.”

I wanted to ask, “Was the fullback Caucasian?” I avoided the temptation to do so. Actually, the question I really wanted to ask was, “Why did you bother to mention that the attacking player was aboriginal? Did that mean the fullback was in greater danger?”

I was reminded of a conversation I had thirty-two years ago. I was living in a small town and was very early into my teaching career. I was speaking to a close friend.

That house, the one two doors down from me, finally sold.”

My friend asked, “Have you met your new neighbours?”

No. I saw them from a distance and waved. They’re a Caucasian family.”

They’re a what?”

They’re Caucasian; you know, the same colour as us.”

Why would you bother mentioning that?”

Well, if I had said they were black or Asian, would you think it odd?”

I suppose not.”

I knew I ran the risk of offending my friend but I was fairly certain I was in safe territory. The point I wanted to make was that we tend to include descriptors that really have no bearing on the story or event but, perhaps, harbour some degree of bias.

Perhaps you have heard the story that starts with the woman saying, “I was alone in an elevator while visiting New York when the doors opened and these two big black guys got on.” Let’s rewrite the opening of that story, “I was alone in an elevator, one time. The doors opened and two guys got on.” Do you sense the difference?

Are we any closer to the day when a player is just a player or a neighbour is just a neighbour? Let’s hope so.

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