Dr. Janet Taylor: The election of President Barack Obama certainly has signified that change has come to America. However, if that is truly the case (and I believe that it is), why isn't America listening? From the recent arrest of esteemed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., by the Cambridge, Mass., police (after a tip from his own neighbor) for breaking into his own home, to the idiotic, insensitive comment by New York Representative Carolyn Mahoney (which went like this: "I got a call from someone from Puerto Rico, [who] said [Senator Kirsten Gillibrand] went to Puerto Rico and came out for English-only [education]. And he said, 'It was like saying n****r to a Puerto Rican.'" What??) -- clearly, we're not listening. Surely her speechwriters could have found a better way to assist Rep. Mahoney in making her point?
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Rights Working Group recently released a report in June 2009 indicating that widespread racial profiling by law enforcement agencies remains a pervasive problem. Current United States Attorney General Eric Holder also stated that ending racial profiling is a "priority" for the Obama administration. Great -- clearly governmental and agency tolerance and existing policies contribute to these issues.
My daughter recently told me about an experience that her boss had. He is Latino, with multiple tattoos, a senior director of a top company and ensconced in a penthouse in Manhattan. One of his neighbors that he rarely talks to knocked on his door because she had locked her keys in her car. When he asked why she came to him, she replied, "Because you know, you guys know how to get in." Excuse me: just because he has tattoos, or maybe because he is Latino ... he can break into cars?
What do these examples say about us as individuals? What kind of self-awareness do we need to develop to help us recognize our own biases and stereotypes that invade our everyday thinking? How can we teach our children to truly be tolerant and value ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic differences in others as well as themselves?
Clearly, we have work to do. It starts with being aware of our old cultural experiences and attitudes that may go way back. Examine what you were taught about others, and identify how exposed or not you were to different kinds of people. Think about bias as being an unwarranted opinion about others. Ask yourself: how much do I really know? Then take it upon yourself to find out. That means asking, not assuming. Imagine what could have happened if Professor Gates' neighbor had called out to him to ask if he needed her assistance instead of calling the police. This is not the time to stay silent. There is a cultural and ethnic demographic shift going on in America. All of us need to adjust our mindsets by stepping out of the boxes and corners we keep ourselves in. We need to be willing to learn from others without judgment, and with an open mind.
I recently saw a great bumper sticker that said: "Change can come with the speed of thought." Getting along may be easier than we realize.
|Dr. Janet Taylor is a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Columbia University at Harlem Hospital, and is a consumer health strategist and certified life coach. Her company, Mind Projects, Inc., specializes in corporate stress management and consumer health strategies. She practices in Chelsea and lives with her husband and four daughters in New York.|