News and Views
March 1, 2022
Posted in: WATSON Views
Black History Month has been an opportunity for the WATSON team to reflect on why we study history. We created space for our staff to share their experiences, ask difficult questions, and speak to sensitive issues. We will continue to do this.
The two themes that consistently came up in our conversations were around the impacts of unconscious bias and the importance of storytelling. And what we found was that storytelling has the power to counteract the effects of unconscious bias. The more stories we hear about different individuals within a group of people, the less likely we are to assume that all members of that group exhibit the same characteristics.
Stories help us understand the nuance that exists in all groups of human beings. We can learn about a Black man with a PhD from Stanford in Materials Science, three master’s degrees (including an MBA), and a bachelor’s degree in Physics from MIT who lives a quiet life in Texas with his three sons and his wife. This is the story of one of our colleague’s brothers and is more common than we might think.
We challenged ourselves to think about why, when we hear a story like this one, we don’t apply these positive attributes to the group when we do associate the negative ones. This is the challenge posed by unconscious bias – we see positive stories as examples of exceptionalism. The individuals are seen as exceptions rather than representative of the group.
So, considering that February was a month to celebrate Black history, how best can we learn the lessons of history? One way is to hear the whole story, the good and the bad, to understand who we are today. Another is to continue to learn about people with remarkable accomplishments, and to remember and honour their stories by seeing their potential in others.
As we went on this journey of discovery we were assisted by several resources. We’ve shared some below:
- In one of the most-watched TedTalks in the world, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie discusses The Danger of a Single Story.
- In a conversation hosted by the Ivey Business School, Wes Hall discusses how Racism is our Pandemic. Wes Hall is the Founder of BlackNorth Initiative, an organization committed to getting more Black people on boards.
- Knowing history is key to reducing unconscious bias, Jessica Nordell, author of The End of Bias: A Beginning, discusses the cumulative effect of unconscious bias over a person’s lifetime and ways to address it.
- For those in or near Vancouver, consider visiting the Celebration of Black History Month at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology.