Slice of Life: Hidden Biases

This weekend our refrigerator died.  Equipped with research and measurements, my husband and I walked into Home Depot. We opened doors, slid drawers, removed ice makers, closed doors, imagined the contents of our freezer in the compartments of each. After debate and elimination rounds, we had the one. Time to place the order.

Like magic, Nick (the name written in black sharpie on his orange apron) walked up. Mitch told the young man what we had decided. Nick nodded. And then Mitch said something that changed our course, Nick, what’s your opinion?”

Without hesitation, Nick said, “I don’t like that brand.”  We went on to have a conversation about the attributes and limitations of each. Nick not only sold these machines, he also dealt with customer complaints and service requests. Thanks to his input, we ended up choosing a refrigerator we had not considered.

As we walked away, Mitch said, “He was great!”

I agreed. He was. And said, “I don’t think we have seen that side of him if you hadn’t asked his opinion. You invited the conversation. You allowed him to share his knowledge. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have.”

And I wonder, if I was alone, would I have asked Nick his opinion? I know I was surprised by his knowledge. Twenty-something guy. (That’s my bias speaking.)

And I wonder, had he been older, would have seen him differently? Age and experience are something I link together. (That’s my bias again.)


pilot.jpgI write this after reading Chapter 3 in Sara K. Ahmed’s book, Being the Change.  One of the many benefits of working through this read is learning to examine my biases.  The automatic assumptions I make that lead me to action or inaction. I know my experience at Home Depot was different because of Sara’s words and the exercises she suggests.

In the chapter titled Candor, she asks kids to quickly sketch a pilot, scientist, doctor,  or teacher. My drawing of a pilot is on the right. Yep. That’s how I see a pilot. One that is based on my experience.

I could and do beat myself up about this, but being aware of my bias and addressing them is a better step to change. Sara calls becoming aware of your bias is “activating system 2.” System 1 is your unconscious behavior (action or inaction) that shows a bias.

I can see many of my biases. For example, airline pilots. I know they are there and need to be addressed. My experience with Nick at Home Depot highlights a subtle bias one I was not aware of. Being open, asking questions, reflecting, and be ready to activate your system 2 will help deconstruct bias. These are all steps that I’m working on so I can better lead students to do the same.


If you have not started Sara K. Ahmed’s Being the Change, I strongly suggest you add it to your summer reading stack and check out the inspiring group of educators who are studying the book for this year’s  #cyberPD.

12 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Hidden Biases

  1. I love how a book can change our entire experience and actions in the world! Thank you for sharing this story. I have Being the Change and it’s my next to-be-read book. Your post is making me really excited to get started and to uncover my subtle biases.

  2. You connected so smoothly the book and your experience in buying the refrigerator. It is clearly a great book if it makes you reflective about your own thinking and biases.

  3. Knowing that you have biases is the first step to fixing them. I love how you connected the refrigerator experience. I hope the new one is working out. We have biases that go well beyond race and gender. You pointed out the age thing. And sometimes we hear rumors or gossip about someone and create an impression even before we meet them. I haven’t gotten to this chapter yet, but I know it will make me think differently.

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Julieanne. Like you, I’m sure I wouldn’t have asked Nick for his opinion. I’m trying to be more aware of my biases, but it’s not easy. Sara’s book sounds amazing. I’ll add it to my stack and hope it doesn’t topple over!

  5. I was watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. Jerry commented he trusted a female pilot more than a male. He followed with, a female has to be three times better than any male to get the job. This made me pause and reflect. I laughed that your post brought that back.

  6. I am reading the book too, so I am hyper aware of my biases lately too! While traveling this summer I have been asking people their opinions more often and always find it helpful (two recent examples when I asked people working in restaurants for their recommendation and got yummy meals I would not have chosen for myself). I love how seeing things differently (and being aware of our biases) can change our experiences.

  7. This! “I don’t think we have seen that side of him if you hadn’t asked his opinion. You invited the conversation. You allowed him to share his knowledge. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have.” It makes me wonder how much I could learn by just asking: “What do you think?” or “What’s your opinion?”

  8. See here how you’ve used the power of analogy to establish hook, connection, and context. Terrific mentor text 🙂

    A flood of anecdotes came rushing to mind as a read yours. They are all about others bias of me (older people are afraid of tech or older women have no knowledge of tech). I do remember a time when I was a teenager when I went to a new friend’s house. There I discovered the most incredible art collection and library. I asked my friend who the art collector was and could not hide my surprise when she told me it was her father. Her father was an automotive mechanic. My embarrassment at such an explicit bias has never left me. 🙂

    Thanks for a wonderful read.

  9. What a great example of hidden bias and how this book is changing your thinking. One of the reasons I love Sara’s book is that it is helpful for changing our classroom practice, but it also has the potential to change us as human beings.

  10. I really enjoyed this post and how you connected it to the chapter in Being the Change. People have such incredible expertise and knowledge that we often just don’t tap into, and I wonder if that’s because of our biases.

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