Room for Improvement: Recognizing Unconscious Bias When You See It

By Candice Fong (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Years ago, I helped a female BIPOC colleague put together a session with a speaker. On the day of the presentation, I walked into the room and introduced myself to whom I thought was the speaker. The person said, “oh I know who you are, Candice, I’m [insert colleague’s name].” I was embarrassed by my mistake and hoped it would pass without mentioning it again. However at one point, I asked the speaker a question and noticed that my colleague seemed visibly upset as I spoke. It was at that point that I began to question my initial reaction to ignore the incident. 

Afterwards, I confided to a white male colleague, whom I trusted and respected, what had transpired. I’m not sure what I was hoping to get out of my confession, but I think I was trying to figure out if I was being overly sensitive, whether I was still a decent human being, and maybe even justify my inaction. He assured me that he didn’t think I had done anything offensive and that it was an honest mistake.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

That night I was mulling over the day’s events and it was still bothering me. My slight was unintentional, but my intentions didn’t matter as much as how the recipient felt by my actions and its impact. I decided to apologize to my colleague and that I had to own up to what I had done. I let this person know that I was deeply embarrassed and ashamed of my behaviour, her feelings and reactions were justified, and that I had no excuse. She responded that no apology was needed but she accepted it nonetheless and we moved forward and continued to be on friendly terms. 

I learned a lifelong lesson that just because you identify as BIPOC doesn’t mean you are impervious to unconscious race bias. I erroneously and conceitedly thought because I had experienced micro-aggressions that I could never be an aggressor to someone else. I realized back then that I had work to do, and I have tried to improve through greater self-awareness and through my actions and words. As I say to my children, “you aren’t a bad person, you’re a person who did a bad thing; and it’s important to recognize when you’ve done a bad thing and to learn and grow from it.”

I encourage you to consult the following resources about unconscious biases:


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