15 December 2020

Raw Conversations: Impact Hubs in the USA Tackle Implicit Bias

“It’s an invitation to reckon with the inner oppressor and be on a journey to decolonize my own mind.” – Participant

What’s at stake when we don’t confront wrong? What are we jeopardizing when we remain silent in the face of growing injustices that threaten to explode? Impact Hub Boston and Impact Hub New York Metropolitan Area came together to have a raw conversation to start turning the tide, in “Unpacking Our Implicit Bias: A Conversation on Racism,” a live event in October. It was a raw and honest conversation. Throughout this article, we’re sharing quotes from participants anonymously.

“The biggest challenge I’m facing is assimilation or savior-ism to help people become like me.”  -Participant

Facilitators Brenda Herrera Moreno of Impact Hub Boston and Karen Brown Stovell, co-founder of Impact Hub New York Metropolitan Area, created a virtual safe space where participants shared and spoke their truths, holding up the mirror up to examine themselves and the lens through which they view and relate to others. 

The event consisted of two integral parts: a fishbowl discussion and breakout groups. A fishbowl discussion is a strategy to foster productive conversations on a given topic. A larger group, outside the fishbowl, listens and takes notes while the smaller inner group, ie: the fishbowl, converse, debates, and shares their ideas and perspectives. In the fishbowl exercise, there was hesitation in being so exposed by some and a readiness to speak what is and bring racism out from among the shadows of accepted norms by others. Under the magnifying glass, they came together and shared their thoughts and experiences around their own biases as well as personal and organizational accountability. Participants of color spoke of shaking off the burden seemingly assigned to them in corporate spaces to solve the pipeline problem and come up with solutions. White participants talked about seeking to change but did not necessarily know how to do it innately. The response from their fishbowl peers? Learn and be intentional. Join diverse groups and be deliberate about interrogating your bias. Naming it goes a long way in helping you to have the clarity to dismantle it.

“If we aren’t unpacking the bias that we’re each bringing, we’ll shatter what we’ve been trying to accomplish.” – Participant

The conversation also circled around the influencing narrative of mass media and confronting the myths of this nation that have helped normalize cultural bias. The discussion then focused on the opportunities media and marketing could provide, because they are at the forefront of change. They are also the biggest influencers of self-esteem and perception. But the biting reality was that American media is mostly white-owned and -led and is part of the power structures that benefit from biased policies and from people being biased.  

“We are programmed by society to be toxic and they are reinforced because there’s a profit motive to reinforce them.” – Participant

The group addressed some of the contradictions that have long perplexed many. One participant noticed how people, when in a stadium, exhibit unification, dropping all prejudices and become one to root for their team, yet that oneness doesn’t translate outside those walls. That begged the question: how can we see ourselves as one single team in this nation from shore to shore? It’s a lifelong multigenerational conversation we all need to have.

It’s a personal journey and an organizational mission.” – Participant

In part two,  participants could choose from one of three breakout room topics for a more in-depth conversation. The topics were: 

  1. Implicit Bias Generally Speaking: Reflections & Insights, Informing Commitment
  2. Microaggression & Professionalism: We’re In This Together – Creating An Inclusive Culture
  3. Unpacking Guilt & Shame: Holding It, Learning From It And Moving Through It.

This author joined the last group, curious to see how people were stepping up to acknowledge and unpack their own shame and guilt.

“Guilt is something I am willing to talk about but not things I’m ashamed of.” – Participant

Shame and guilt can breed discomfort and lead to silence. For some, guilt stemmed from a need to always be perfect, to set high standards due to a sense of deficiency, of never being enough. Others spoke of the shame of bias that really isn’t a secret in society, yet nobody talks about it. But to talk about it often goes hand-in-hand with peer perception; the fear of being ousted becomes a barrier to transparency. 

“I’ve been raised by a society that ‘good white people don’t talk about this ever.’” – Participant

Emotions ran high as each participant’s affliction of shame and guilt was shared and brought to light, some resulting in immense regret. The group was encouraged by Brenda Herrera Moreno, the moderator, to embrace shame and guilt. To see both as an ally by learning through one’s mistakes to learn how shame feels, which allows the opportunity to be careful the next time. 

Interesting it was, however, to see the dynamics of the different ethnicities’ responses to painful observations shared.  Instead of the usual compassion that would be the assumed reaction, participants were challenged by each other to take initiative, to do the very thing they felt their shame omitted them from doing. 

“There is an innate tendency to coddle but it’s not a part of racial justice or healing.” – Participant

The question “What’s stopping you from doing that?” permeated the atmosphere, ripping off the band-aid to lay bare the stark awareness of the responsibility to own one’s thoughts and actions.  Helplessness wasn’t accepted as an option, especially when there are multiple opportunities to join communities structured around reconciliation, restorative justice, and non-violent communication.  

Unpacking guilt and shame, as one participant put it, is a deeply personal path for all.  And there is a need to engage communally in undoing the conditioning and socializing we were born into this world with, in order to heal the internalized dominance of white people that perpetuates the oppression of others and the internalized hatred that plagues many people of color. 

Overall it was clear that, whether trepidatiously or boldly, people were seeking change in themselves and in their society. And they were seeking out more diverse spaces where they can hold each other and themselves accountable.


This blogpost was first published on Impact Hub Boston’s blog and written by Demetria Bridges.