Recently, I was on my way to my internship and was walking down the stairs to the subway. I realized that the train was already at the station so I quickened my steps. I made it onto the train just before the door closed. As I made my way to a seat, a burly African-American man pointed to the middle-aged West African woman standing next to me and asked me “Did you come on the same boat as your cousin?” His friends chuckled. I glared at him and refused to voice my anger at his reference to the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Growing up in Lagos, Nigeria, I wasn’t black. I mean, obviously I was, but I never realized it. I was simply a Yoruba girl. Moving to the United States for my college education opened my eyes to a lot things, including the fact that I’m black. I don’t resent this fact, but having my skin color as an identifier is still new to me. For a long time I did not understand the issues facing the African-American community.
My previous apathy stemmed from my inability to relate to certain issues that African Americans have dealt with all their lives. When my African-American friends complain about being told that they “sound white”, I sympathize, but cannot empathize with them. People are always surprised that I even speak English. I was interviewing for a job recently and my interviewer could not mask her surprise about the fluency of my English. At the end of my interview, she politely asked “How is your English so good?” I then launched into my two-minute pitch about Nigeria being colonized by the British, and that English is indeed my first language. With such low expectations, apathy is almost an excusable choice.
Why did that African-American man assume that I came here on a boat? Besides being ignorant and rude, I think he unconsciously associates African immigrants with slavery. This phenomenon, known as implicit bias is the silent cause for injustice. Implicit bias predisposes us to unintentional errors in judgement. Social psychologists have studied implicit bias for a long time and have come up with a series of tests to determine the extent and nature of implicit bias among people. The implicit bias test on race can be found here
What now? Implicit bias can be reduced but the first step is acknowledging that it exists within each and everyone of us. Take the test above, and ponder on the results. Allow your test results to improve your thoughts and actions.