The more I think about it, the more I am sure I made a mistake. At the interviews for our new behavior dean I believe my bias led me to advocate against hiring two women of color and resulted in the hiring of a white man.
I am certain that the man we hired is extremely competent, caring, patient, calm and happy to be with us. I think what upsets me is how I felt when I sat through the two interviews with Black women and what I said afterwards. I felt like those two women were great candidates for the position but I worried because their answers lacked some concreteness as to what they would do in some situations. After most of the interviews were over I expressed that I wasn’t hearing anyone give the answers I would give to these questions.
It is hard to come out of a year working with the best inclusion dean I have worked with so far and look for someone that could fill her shoes, someone who I could trust, someone who would work with me to figure out what we were doing in the moments of this very challenging job. Someone who would stay late and talk about what is going on in the world and how it affects our students. Someone who grew into a very good friend.
I think part of me just wanted to hear her there in the interviews. But I also had bias that the answers I needed to hear should sound like mine.
And what made me really start thinking about this recently was listening to Jessica Byrd on the August 10th episode of the podcast, Politically Re-Active when she said the following:
“When you say that “The best person” for a job is always the same type of person, and in particular, the same profile of a person who’s always led before then … you’re protecting a gate of power and becoming a barrier for people who are underrepresented and who, really, the system really wasn’t built for. We don’t have an imagination around what’s possible because we are locked in these very clear silos that are both, systemically real as in parties…We have these two parties, and to think that we can fit the diversity of any of our communities into two distinct buckets is just also limiting. But then also we have all of the ways in which society tells us who gets to lead and who doesn’t, who has power who doesn’t, …We need to change the muscle memory of who people believe deserve to serve us.”
Byrd was discussing politics and the two parties but really her words fit with so many aspects of society. As we progress into a future that an increasing number of us believe should look and be more equitable we really need to examine when these biases arise within us. Hiring one person over another did not feel at the surface to be a biased action. What made me realize what I was saying when I said I wanted to hear answers I would give was when I stopped to listen to a person of color rather than arguing my innocence in the situation. No, I was not trying to hurt someone or discriminate but I did do these very things.
I strongly believe white people need to step back and examine our lives, our actions and the ways institutional racism rears its ugly head in our world. Many of us do not want to live in a world that does not demonstrate equity for all. It is on us then to listen and make change where we can.
I can’t go back to those interviews in August. I can go forward though with new perspective and change my future interactions. It is exactly what I say to my students every day, “Sorry only means something when you work to change future behavior and try not to repeat the same hurtful action.”
I know that as some read this post they may feel compelled to absolve me from “thinking ” I acted in a bias way. Please don’t do that. That will help no one. Instead I look forward to critical dialogue. Let’s grow and learn together.