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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

Accepting the Unacceptable

“It’s amazing to me how much of this I just take for granted.”


That’s what a participant said at the end of a recent workshop on implicit bias. She was a Black woman, probably in her 40s. 


“Growing up, I just thought that it is what it is,” she continued. “There’s stuff we’re so used to that we don’t even notice or question.”


The group had been discussing microaggressions: the way in which implicit bias reveals itself in people who don’t believe themselves to be biased. Microaggressions can sound like compliments or jokes, in the form of words or behaviors. But they are slights, seemingly small, based on stereotypes that people from marginalized groups chronically experience. 


As in every workshop, the participants had no trouble generating dozens of examples. 


It's amazing how many microaggressions I just take for granted.

And when this woman said she’d taken them for granted her whole life, I thought, wow. How much have I gotten used to, to the point where I don’t even notice anymore?


Just the day before, on my birthday, I went to a spa to treat myself. The woman at the spa, who was white, greeted me with “Hey girlfriend!” She was very chipper and helpful overall, but after she “girlfriend”ed me five more times, I started to wonder. Does she say this to everyone? Does she think this is the way to connect with a Black woman? She was trying to be nice, I told myself, so I let it go. But it hooked into my mind and made it harder to relax. 


Similar slights happen to my friends of color on a regular basis. A Black couple I know has been directed so many times to the least desirable table in the restaurant (near the front door, the kitchen door, or the bussing station) that the wife will not sit down until her husband has surveyed the restaurant and said it is okay. It has become a pet peeve that he will no longer accept.


Those things aren’t happening to my white friends. Each one alone may not be a big deal, but added together they are. That’s the thing with microaggressions: the impact builds over time.


I also started thinking of other things we accept that cause harm. Stuff like norms in the office: who speaks first in meetings, who gets listened to. The way a male client looks at the men on the team but doesn’t make eye contact with the women—even when a woman is the team leader. 


Or how hierarchy affects our interactions without being explicitly named. When our clients start to assemble teams to develop strategic plans, a lot of them come back with lists of people from leadership. They’re used to allowing only senior employees to set priorities. They’re surprised when we ask them to bring people together from different levels. Even more junior people think that’s just the way it is—although I’m seeing the younger generation pushing back a little. Good for them!


We accept so many inequitable, infuriating things as given. But there is really no reason to do so. 

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