THE BLOG
12/18/2014 07:45 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2015

The More Things Change: A Few Depressing Thoughts on Bias

As we neared the end of our peer group meeting, one of the women brought up the difficulty she was having in finding baby dolls of color to donate to a charity she supports. The conversation moved on to finding good books with ethnically diverse characters for young readers. Before we knew it, we were deep in a discussion about race, gender, age and weight and bias in general.

Now, we're an odd group. The Transition Network supports peer groups, most often organized around particular needs or interests. What we had in common was that we were available Wednesday evenings. Six years later, we are so tightly bonded that it's hard to believe we didn't have more in common. We are all over 50 -- some well over 50. We are black, white, native New Yorkers, New Yorkers by choice, thin, fat, working, volunteering, retired. We are - or have been - a choreographer and dancer, teachers, marketing and pubic relations executives, trainers, grant writers, musicians, college professors, corporate executives and probably a few other things. We are married, widowed, divorced and single, straight and gay.

And the six of us gathered around a Christmas tree sipping Prosecco and munching snacks all had one thing in common. We had all experienced bias. We talked about our own biases and how hard it was to recognize them and choose to not automatically act on them. We shared stories of experiencing bias.

We talked about women of color being followed in stores and tagged as potential shoplifters. One woman was approached by a security guard who inquired if she had paid for the tie she was holding -- as she stood on the gift wrap line. We talked about growing up seeing young Black men accosted by police officers when they were on their own front lawns in their own Black neighborhood. We heard about a gym member mistaking Ciceley Tyson for an attendant and asking her to get her a towel. We mentioned in passing the notion that overweight people are clearly sloppy and lazy.

One women described what it was like working in the energy industry, where she found no rest rooms for women and how, when she arrived for her interview to become Vice President, she was told that there were no secretarial vacancies. She talked about her efforts to help the students in the leadership program she manages at a midwestern engineering school have some knowledge about their own biases. It's an uphill battle. Many claim that the Harvard instrument used to uncover bias is clearly flawed - there's nothing biased about them.

Another described spearheading a major marketing campaign only to be told, when travel arrangements were being made, that she'd be in coach because only men flew first class. Luckily, no one passed this on to the person making the travel arrangements.

One member walked out of a performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music to find herself in the midst of a group of marchers chanting, "I can't breathe." She found herself drawn into the march and joined the group. This sparked a discussion of all the marching and protesting we'd done years ago. We talked about backlash against feminism and how so many younger women seemed to think that they didn't need to do anything because we'd already handled the issue.

We talked about, how, years ago, New York Radical Feminists were clearly divided along ethnic lines. The Lavender Menace united women pretty quickly as a multi-ethnic coalition came together to reject the lesbians.

We talked about how we can always find some way to separate and isolate. Every time we think we've made progress, we are faced with evidence that maybe that just isn't so. People have taken to the streets to bring attention to deaths at the hand of police officers. Attention is being paid to violence against police officers as well. We're at war in more places than I can count. Women are expected to reach salary equity with men in a mere 150 years.

While boarding a bus for yet another march on Washington decades ago, a friend met an woman in her 70s who told her, "I'm doing this now so that you don't have to when you're my age." Well, we are that age now. And many of us have gotten comfortable in our lives and haven't been paying attention. The six of left with a renewed sense of purpose. We will continue and deepen this conversation. We all are deciding how we will reengage in working for change. We will support our sister in educating her students.

Maybe our children won't still need to fight these exact same battles when they are seventy.