Reflections on Bias

I’m a young white female philosopher, recently graduated and currently enjoying a postdoc.  I dealt with what felt like a lot of gendered BS during grad school.  Often, things were so bad that I thought about quitting philosophy.  I posted some stories to What It’s Like and that helped somewhat.  Publishing, graduating, and getting a job helped even more.

I’m writing now because, despite my frequent experience as a target of bias, I know I’ve inflicted my own biases on others.  For example: one afternoon during grad school I noticed a very well-dressed black man wandering around the halls of my department.  Despite that it was on the day and near the time of our weekly seminar, I wondered who this person could possibly be.  I didn’t go up and introduce myself or ask if he needed help with anything.  I didn’t take the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with him about his work.  I just wondered what he could possibly be doing there.

Of course, he turned out to be our speaker that week—in fact, he was quite a well-known and prestigious philosopher, though not from my own sub-field.  When I walked into our seminar room and realized this, I was so ashamed.  Normally I would have guessed that a well-dressed stranger in our department on that day and at that time was our speaker.  But this time the thought did not even occur to me, because he was black.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had my own unconscious biases appear so starkly within my field of view before.  So I just wanted to say I’m sorry—for this incident, and the many others that I’m sure I’ve committed without even noticing.  I can’t believe I’ve done to others precisely what I’ve resented people for doing to me.  I’m so sorry.  And thanks very much for setting up this blog—I will read these stories and then I’ll think about my own beliefs and behaviors.  I’ll try and do better.

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