I have a confession.
It took me about 5 tries filming the video for today before I even came close to feeling comfortable with it.
Unconscious Bias. It’s a tough subject matter to delve into.
And today’s personal reflection is one that has quietly been stirring my thoughts for many years.
It’s about my mother and something that happened in the Assisted Living housing where she lived from her late 80s into her 90s.
Now conversations about my mother are often complicated and complex. This one is particularly challenging for me as I’m struggling to make sense of what I’m thinking, feeling and want to say.
It starts with an implicit bias where we ‘infantilize’ older adults with both the things we expect them to conform to and the words we use to describe them.
In this case, it was a Christmas concert in which my mother played in the Bell Choir.
I was always inspired by her desire to participate and do things creative. In this case, I was inspired by her bell ringing.
What disturbed me then, and still confuses me today is the manner in which the organizers of the concert insisted the performers come on stage.
They dressed all the choir members with reindeer ears, little mittens and then made them prance like reindeer as they came onto stage.
Now, if that had been one of my daughter’s grade 1 classes, I’d have been oohing and cooing about how sweet and cute they all were.
But these were older adults. People who had spent a lifetime maturing into themselves, building histories and stories, families and lives that mattered to them.
It felt disrespectful to treat them like children and then use words that I’d have used for my children to describe their presence.
And that’s where unconscious/implicit bias rears its sinister head.
See, it was really cute and sweet but, was it fair or honouring of the individuals’ on that stage?
Now, to be clear, this isn’t about saying it’s not okay to put on reindeer ears and prance around. If that’s your jam, go for it!
But, in the organizer’s insistence that everyone in the choir dress-up and act like reindeer, they took away the individual choir member’s agency and undermined their dignity through the inherent infantilization of their age.
And I compounded the issue by further infantilizing their performance with the words used to describe everyone, including our expressions of surprise that the performers could learn to play bells in the first place.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. I’m still working through mine — all these years later it still bothers me how the words I used to describe my mother’s participation had little to do with her talent and proficiency at bell ringing and more to do with how cute and sweet she looked in her reindeer ears as she pranced onto stage.
Until I started seeing it all through the lens of implicit bias, I hadn’t quite been able to grasp what had concerned me about that performance (and others I witnessed at the assisted living centre too).
Thanks for reading and being part of the conversation.