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Reflections on Racial Justice: Part XV – Unconscious Bias, Continued

I took Harvard’s IAT test, and the results surprised me.  I was designated as Moderately preferring people of African origin to those of European origin.  This is between a Slight and Strong preference.  I couldn’t understand that result because, although I have a small number of African American friends, the people I spend time with are almost all Anglos—of European origin.

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Reflections on Racial Justice: Part XIV – Unconscious Bias

As in most cases where I don’t trust the results, I first looked to the instrument:  did I misunderstand the instructions?  Does it measure hand-eye coordination rather than attitude?  My mind wandered briefly during the test as I speculated about how it worked; did loss of concentration skew my responses?

After graduate school, I moved to Washington, DC, and found Washington to be a very Black and White city.  I had never seen so many Black people in one place.

Then I thought about Black people I’ve known.  The first Black person I recall was a high school student in Oakland.  My church’s high school youth group spent a spring break in inner-city Oakland living at a church and working on a project.  I spent a lot of time talking to one of the boys.  He was curious and thoughtful.  I was in graduate school when the American Studies canon was expanded to include Black Studies.  Although I don’t recall Black students in our program, I read many Black literary and historical classics.  After graduate school, I moved to Washington, DC, and found Washington to be a very Black and White city.  I had never seen so many Black people in one place.  Walking the streets and riding buses among large numbers of Black people, the place felt exotic and vibrant.  In GM, I was close to several Black colleagues with whom I had many long talks, including a Black peer in College Relations, my first supervisor, and one of my key direct reports in GMAC.  Another Black peer recruited me to his department when it was time for me to repatriate from Europe to Detroit.  I served under two Black senior executives.  More recently I worked with several Black executives in connection with my position on the Inroads national board of directors and a few Black instructors at SMU.  I grew close to several Black Kenyan leaders at Nairobi’s Daystar University as I’ve served on Daystar’s US board.

Recalling Black friends, it occurred to me that those I’ve been close to were like me, only Black:   a sensitive high school boy, federal office employees (judging by appearances), GM professionals and managers, corporate executives, and African university leaders.  It was easy to get close to them.  If that explains my results, I must ask how well I really knew my Black friends.  I must reach out and see.

Transformation starts in a neutral zone, a place where you let go of the old before building something new.   Entering a neutral zone allows you to pause, let go, reflect, determine a course of action, and begin to move into something new.  Questioning the results of my survey put me in the neutral zone where I could reflect.  The survey’s accuracy is no longer the point.  Reflection generated a new insight that I can act on to course-correct.

In his Autobiography, Ben Franklin describes a time when he paused, reflected, and changed course.  He related his young man’s “bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.”  He identified thirteen virtues and listed them down an ivory tablet.  Across the top of the tablet, he arrayed the days of the week.  Each day he would put a mark in the cells where he found he had committed a fault against a virtue.  Each week he emphasized one virtue and endeavored to keep its cells unmarked.  In a year he would cycle through each virtue four times.  His intention was to “acquire the habitude of all these virtues.”  But he became discouraged and concluded, “such extreme nicety as I exacted of myself might be a kind of foppery in morals . . . a benevolent man should allow a few faults in himself to keep his friends in countenance.”  Thus reflecting, he realized he had changed his behavior for the better, accepted remaining faults that he could mitigate, and abandoned the discipline.

Frank Lloyd
Frank Lloyd
Dr. Frank Lloyd is the former Associate Dean of Executive Education at Southern Methodist University's (SMU) Edwin L. Cox School of Business, where he led development and delivery of award-winning executive leadership programs that transformed careers and organizations. He was the driving force in the creation of a national center of excellence on Latino leadership, and he was instrumental in the launch of the James M. Collins Executive Education Center. Dr. Lloyd joined SMU’s Cox School from the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, where he was Vice President of Executive Education. Prior to joining Thunderbird, Dr. Lloyd was a human resources executive with General Motors. Among the highlights of his career, he was responsible for organization development and leadership training for GM Europe during its transition from mass to lean production, and he was the first GM Human Resources manager at New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), the historic joint venture between GM and Toyota noted for its innovative labor-management relations and the introduction of the Toyota production system. Dr. Lloyd is an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of UNICON, the Global Consortium for University-based Executive Education. He served on the national board of Inroads, an organization with the mission to develop and place talented underserved youth in business and industry and prepare them for corporate and community leadership. He is the former board chair of Daystar US which mobilizes resources to support Daystar, a non-denominational Christian university in Nairobi, Kenya whose mission is to prepare servant leaders for Africa. He currently is a board member for Literacy Achieves, a Dallas, Texas-based non-profit that teaches English as a second language to adult immigrants to facilitate their employment, parenting, and other life skills. Dr. Lloyd was a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Isfahan in Iran. He also served as a U.S. Information Agency curriculum consultant for Germany. He earned a master’s degree at Purdue University and a Ph. D. at the University of Iowa. His undergraduate degree is from Occidental College.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I am going to take a risk with this comment:

    I wonder if you have seen the effect of the old feminist saying “we have to twice as good to get half the reward.” It applies to all minorities and consequently, if you are exposed to minorities high in organizational hierarchies, they are not only “twice as good”, often as the token minorities they just can’t afford to behave in ways that will reflect badly on their group.

    True equality would have been if minorities could behave with impunity the same way many white men have done over the years – no offense to you personally, Frank – and not have their careers disrupted. So could it be that you have just met more white jerks than among the BIPOC community? That would make you answer more distrustful of whites on the Harvard test.

    Before this comment causes an uproar of protest from people feeling I am unfair, this is math: if there is the same percent of bad apples in any barrel, if there are way more apples from one barrel, the chance is higher that one taken from that barrel is bad.

    • Charlotte, thank you for the comment. I had not looked at it that way. I have heard a version of the feminist saying you mention many times from African American and Latinx friends. As children they were told that education was the way up and out, and they were also told, whether in academics or athletics, they had to be better than the other (white) children to get the same opportunities. The people of color I know are ones who took that message to heart and were able to do so. So not only might I have known more white “bad apples,” the people of color I have known could be skewed the other way. Frank

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