You are racist. You are sexist. You are homophobic.
Now stop. Analyze your response to my words. Is your heart racing? Do you feel tense, ready to fight? Are you already in my comment section, blasting off a response about how you have plenty of black/gay/disabled/women friends and of course you don’t stereotype? Are you ready to find holes in my argument and punch right through them?
If you want to be a true ally, you need to realize that this type of response is happening. When someone questions you, or calls you biased, you immediately have physical and mental urges to defend yourself, to fight and stick up for yourself. This immediate defensive response is not conducive to having a well-reasoned discussion about whether you actually have a bias. You are likely to shout at your ally, find excuses, and otherwise alienate them. If you truly care about your allies, you need to learn how to suppress that response.
Yep, I’m Racist
I grew up in a small town without any people of color in my school. I have a bias towards white people. I can say and do racist things without realizing it. I need allies to be able to call me on it, so I can improve my language and actions. Biting their heads off when they tell me I have a bias isn’t helpful.
How to Respond to Ally Criticism
At Open Source Bridge, Kronda gave a talk called “Expanding Your Empathy”. She mentioned that in school, you’re taught that when you’re on fire, you “Stop, drop, and roll.” The teachers drill this into you, over and over again, because when you’re in fire, *you’re on fire* and you panic. Drilling in a simple mantra over and over helps you get past the panic response and put out the fire.
Kronda proposed drilling a mantra into your head for when you’re accused of being biased:
Stop. Take your hands off the keyboard. Take a walk and come back to this thread. Close your mouth, focus on the person’s face, and
Listen. Focus on the person in front of you, their face, their emotions, their opinions. Read through the thread again with an open mind. Are there terms, vocab you’re not understanding, like “mansplaining” or “ablist”? Perhaps you should read about those and come back later. The key here is to focus on understanding your ally, not talking.
Apologize. This needs to be a sincere apology. None of this, “I’m sorry I sounded like a jerk”, or “I’m sorry you misinterpreted my words.” Don’t add a “but” after I’m sorry. Just say, “I’m sorry”, shut up, and let your ally talk.
Responding to Allies in Practice
I recently got called out by an ally at work. I wrote a fast email to a woman with suggestions on how to improve her resume, and I pointed her to this article on how gendered language can creep into job postings and applications. I told her that it would be adventitious to use more decisive, male gendered language in her resume, because it was likely that the hiring manager would be male and would discard her resume if she used the more community-oriented language.
My male co-worker very quietly approached me and said, “I know you wrote that email fast, and you probably didn’t mean it that way, but I just want to let you know that all males wouldn’t immediately discard her resume. I read through it, and I didn’t respond that way.”
My immediate response was to wave at him and say, “Yeah, yeah, I’m sorry, I sent that email off really fast. I didn’t mean it that way.” Then I realized how dismissive that actually was, and I shut up and just listened to him. I needed to listen to an ally that was saying, “You came off as saying all men would discriminate.” I let him talk, I listened to his opinions, and I apologized. As I was walking away, I remembered to say, “Thanks for calling me on that.”
It’s really important to listen when your allies tell you about your biases, and treat them in such a way that they will call you out in the future. We all need to improve, and we all need to keep an open mind.
A Simple Mantra
Remember, when an ally calls you out for being biased: