I never thought Zoom could be related to racial bias in any way. It never even occurred to me.
I took the Harvard Racial Bias test, determined to show that I had beaten my bias down! With each picture, I worked hard to pick the good/bad button as quickly as possible. I was sure I did not have racial unconscious bias, and instead just a good brain that could assess rapidly.
Wow, was I wrong. I was still biased toward white people. This is not surprising since I am a white woman and I’m pretty sure all white people will score on the white biased side. My point is that I thought I was ‘woke’ enough to counteract my socialization. I’m not.
As I continue to learn about socialization and unconscious biases, I’m frequently surprised by other things as well. In my leadership experiences, I’ve always focused on team building and good team communication. So, it seemed very typical and logical for our virtual board meetings to include video (or zoom) whenever possible. In fact, we would routinely tease people about not turning on their cameras. Our meetings were typically at night, so sometimes team members weren’t dressed for the office so to speak. What I found out later, was our people of color were feeling pressured and uncomfortable in that setting.
In Zooming While Black from AARP, the author pronounces
“Videoconferencing from our private spaces opens a lens on cultural authenticity, professional image, workplace code-switching, and white privilege.”
The discussion goes on to explain that people of color can feel singled out or ‘othered’ because of their office surroundings or appearance is different. They feel vulnerable. The women may feel particularly vulnerable because of their hair. Headwraps are not the norm for white people, so wearing one makes one stand out. Yet head wraps or scarves are quite normal for black women in all-black spaces.
Now I don’t have an answer for this one. I still think it’s important to use the camera as much as possible so that you can ‘connect’ as a team. I think we can all do better not to call anyone out for being different in any way on a video conference. Moreover, communicating without seeing facial expressions just feels like talking in a dark room. However, at the price of making someone uncomfortable and unnecessarily vulnerable, I think we all need to be more aware and compassionate. And if anyone has any suggestions on how video meetings should be handled with people of color or other minorities, please share. I love to keep learning.
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