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Before now, I’ve trusted my brain to do a good job of sorting information through the lens of my own values and moral compass. It turns out, I can’t wholeheartedly trust how my brain has formed ideas in the first place. Here’s why –
Imagine you are 3 years old, you start to form ideas about people, putting them into simple groups based on what you hear and see in your environment. Then, your sneaky brain starts to gather information that supports those very simple ideas and actually ignores…I mean actively ignores…information that challenges those ideas that have formed already. It’s like your brain has turned into Facebook: it only delivers information that supports what you think. In science-speak, they call this confirmation bias. This is how stereotypes become solid in our minds. In order to overcome your brain’s tendency to confirm biases, you have to actively replace them when they occur. Think of it as a fitness program for your brain.
Here’s how you replace stereotypes
You should get to know Dave…I mean really get to know him.
He is a complex rebel; a graphic designer by day, he loves logo design – synthesizing meaning and story into the size of a stamp…that kind of distillation and symbolism really switches him on. At night, he is doing the same while creating his art. He is inspired to share his visual ruminations on beauty standards, the historical legacy of being black…and his modern experiences of living while “trying to look like a safe black male.” He’s an imposing figure but a teddy bear inside, he’s optimistic that culture will change…although he admits, it might take a while.
Don’t get too comfortable with the subject matter though. Dave’s imagination doesn’t fit in a box, so you shouldn’t put him in one either – next up you might enjoy his take on nature patterns or landscapes reimagined.
Dave is an only child born to parents he considers “the gold standard.” He was happy as a child, alone absorbing information; airing on the nerdy side, he was fascinated by sci-fi, astrophysics, and art. He is the master of the ‘inward gaze’ and now he is turning himself inside out, finally ready to share the visual distillations of his thoughts. His art is mesmerizing, his aspirations align with ours:
Stephanie was 4 years old when she and her sister were found left in a phone booth in the middle of Seoul, Korea. She doesn’t remember the incident herself, but after a couple of months in foster care, she and her sister were adopted by an American couple living in Japan. Her new Dad was in the Air Force so she has grown up all over the world.
She describes herself as sarcastic and snarky…and when young, preferred to hang out playing soccer with the boys instead of watching tv. By the time her family settled in Texas, Stephanie had found her feminist voice; at 16 she was attending rally’s, a strong supporter of women’s rights. Her love of food also started early, she recalls asking her mom for subscriptions to food magazines for her birthday. Her favorite ingredient is Cilantro, and when craving comfort food she turns to dishes from Thailand, Mexico and Vietnam.
Today, Stephanie is using her leadership skills and passion for fairness as chief of staff at Central Health; Austin’s safety net services for the underinsured. She is also an undercover food writer, reporting on the many new restaurants popping up all over Austin. You simply can’t tell who people are just by looking at their exterior…so remember to go ahead and be nosy, find out what’s inside.
Nothing is forever.
When I asked Itze where she gets her inspiration as a designer, she said she most often turns to nature, not only for her graphic design business but also to help her make sense of life.
She often uses bio-mimicry as a starting point for her designs. When choosing a color palette or a fractal pattern that works at varying scales, she finds nature provides these in abundance. She has also turned to nature and God to help her make sense of tumultuous times in her life.
A few years back, Itze was a happy wife with a considerate and caring husband, but within the span of 4 months, she found herself getting a divorce from a changed man who was diagnosed as bipolar. Penniless, heart-broken and wondering what the future would hold, Itze feels the universe shifted to support her.
She a likens her recovery to a tree that has fallen in the woods, where the old parts gradually disappear but new green shoots find their way skyward creating a whole new tree.
She believes all the bad things that have happened in her life have led to something good. Perhaps her Mexican spirit of creativity and inventiveness have helped her make the most of all that comes her way.
Try to stay curious about people, let go of all the stereotypes and find ways to connect one-to-one.
Just your average Mexican, tennis playing, Buddhist, psycho-therapist, father of twins…that’s Alex.
At 15, Alex dropped out of high school in Mexico City and decided to pursue a career in tennis. He traveled throughout Mexico playing tournaments by day and studying for his diploma from books at night. He eventually landed a scholarship in the US, but before he moved to Arlington, TX to study, he journeyed to NYC, intrigued by a spiritual kind of yoga called Siddha Yoga. That was the beginning of Alex’s long fascination with eastern philosophy, meditation, Buddhism, and spiritual ceremony. He graduated from UT Arlington with a degree in psychology and blends his experiences gained from meditating, freestyle dancing, gardening, and shamanic studies into a unique perspective he brings to his therapy practice.
Even though Alex has made his home in the US, he values the rich, warm, sensual heritage of ethnic traditions from his homeland…always exploring ways to care for his relationships, whether they be spiritual, family, clients, or friends. If you were friends with Alex, you too would be captivated by his beaming smile or wrapped in the warmth of his hugs.
Check out the fabulous Chulita Vinyl Club, and if you need a DJ, hire them!
Next time you see a Muslim woman and notice a stereotype pop into your mind, gently take time to consider how unfair it is to group people because of their exterior traits.
Soccer, songs, and stocks…what do they have in common?
Adrian was 17 years old and feeling excited and a little anxious about his big move to join the English football league and try out for Middlesborough FC. A month before his departure, he suffered a devastating accident, breaking a bone in his back that left him paralyzed for 3 months with a long road to recovery; his chance to play professional soccer in England vanished, and he was left feeling a bit lost.
His next move was inspired by Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave, artists Adrian admires deeply. Their lyrics about simple human experiences motivated him to write his own songs. He has, in his closet, 6 years worth of songs, as yet un-produced, waiting for the right moment where the money and stars align to make them possible in the way he envisions.
Adrian describes himself as a contrarian, someone who insists on independent thinking rather than following the norm. He has no one to blame, he says his family are professionals, disciplined and normal, his father a neurosurgeon and his mother a therapist, he has no idea where his contradictory spirit came from.
He now spends his days glued to the stock market; he likes the independence, the complexity, succeeding…or not, by his own hand, affecting no one but himself. With the help of a mentor and friend, he taught himself the rigors of investing. Adhering to technique, he says, was the hardest thing to learn; investing professionally requires he tame all of his natural impulses.
Adrian is Mexican, yes, but he doesn’t like boxes. To him, it’s irrelevant where he was born…he is rooted in the here and now.
IF you were friends with Mayecor…
…you would know he’s a Sufi healer who revels in the mystical experience of silence and solitude. He often practices silence meditation for 24 hrs at a time; it gives him a sense of inner peace and deep insight into the human condition. You would also know he lives in Senegal and manages our skinisskin facility there. He’s proud of the beautiful and professional lab they built and he’s a stickler for quality control and hopes you notice the difference in your lip balm. He has a calm aura that brings a sense of harmony to the skinisskin workshop. When you get to know people for who they are, your brain relies less on stereotypes.
What if all that we believe to be normal, was actually unusual?
These are the types of questions that Jess asks herself. Why? No reason, she’s just an independent thinker, drawn to the idea of turning things on their head and using that lens to view the world. 30 years ago, she left South Korea because she felt suffocated by the conservative structure and lack of respect for women. Her first port of call was Washington DC, where she had one friend and dreams of being a writer. Unfortunately, her English language skills at the time meant she could not pursue her literary aspirations but instead chose to explore the fine arts.
Her early impressions of the US were both good and bad. She was struck by the amazing mix of cultures she saw every day and the lack of a heavy-handed class system but, petite and pretty, she was frustrated that many thought she was an exotic military bride brought back from a tour of duty. Even though she’s now lived in the US longer than she lived in South Korea, her sense of belonging is trapped in a place in between, neither here nor there. She feels like she’s searching for something, but it’s still unclear what. After raising two kids, she has returned to the arts, expressing her curiosity through painting, looking for a way to connect the fuzzy dots to find her place in the world. She hopes, “Someday, if my paintings can move one soul, I’d be contented with the idea that no one is so terribly alone.”
Can you be tough and tender at the same time?
Marcy has been a nurse for 23 years…6 of those, she was a medic in the military reserves, serving in Hawaii and Texas. She grew up on a dairy farm in rural Wisconsin, spending her early days talking to the cows and shuffling the many cats about in her buggy, pretending they were her charges. Marcy also had some tough personal times—overcoming an eating disorder that started in her teens and surviving the sudden death of her husband at a young age, leaving her with 4-year-old twin boys to care for alone. Marcy is like a caring energizer bunny…in her own words she says, “I love to LOVE and care for people.” Don’t challenge her to a push-up competition though, she’ll probably win. When you get to know real people, your brain lets go of stereotypes and in its place you see the rich, fascinating lives of individuals.
Isabelle Masado is a woman who loves your body, yes yours. She is fascinated with the ways in which culture, love, and religion affect the way we treat our bodies. Through her work with body compassion, she hopes to help others rebuild a relationship with their body by releasing shame and welcoming tenderness.
On most days when she isn’t writing or researching on the body, you catch her at the bar. No not that one. The ballet barre, where she dances under the mentorship of Sade Jones. You can also find her training for a bodybuilding competition, practicing her yoga, reading comic books, or watching Korean Dramas on Netflix.
We discovered Andre Mack and his Maison Noir Wines this year. What an interesting fellow, busting all the stereotypes and having fun doing it. maisonnoirwines.com
Remember to fill your mind with information about individuals. It helps your brain let go of stereotypes and bias.
Stereotypes get started so young that they become automatic. To stop our brain from relying on basic information, we have to actively replace the stereotype when it occurs. This is hard. Perhaps this pneumonic can help. Detect, Reflect, Reject. Try to catch the stereotype when it shows up, then take a moment to think how limiting it is to apply these ideas to everyone, then actively replace the thought with something non-stereotypical. This short piece by Buzzfeed will give you some alternative ideas.
“I was born in Seoul, South Korea. When I was six months old, I was adopted into a family in Washington, Missouri.
I was one of six Asians growing up in a town where we had “Bring Your Tractor to School Day.”
I love old country music, and I’m planning to join peace corp in Zambia for 2 years.”
A message from Neel
“I wish people could see that you can be Indian, and still care about how you dress, and care about sports, and listen to rap, and go to parties, and, honestly, just be attractive. There’s a real disconnect in our society between people of other backgrounds and beauty. You don’t have to be white to be beautiful.”
When an Indian stereotype comes to mind, try replacing it with dapper dresser, rap loving, party monster, sporty boy – Neel.
Stereotype Replacement. When you replace simple stereotypes with information about individuals, it stops your brain from making automatic assumptions and helps undo the habit of bias.
Meet Latina, Leslie Lozano, she’s a co-founding board member and creative producer for #bossbabesatx. She’s also a public speaker, performer, and loves watching reruns of “I Love Lucy.”
Try not to make assumptions about Darleen.
“People often assume that I am a troublemaker or quite un-ladylike. People may find me unapproachable and hesitate to engage with me, assuming that I am a mean person.
I wish people would know that I am actually a super sweet and honest person. It’s a joy for me to make people laugh, so I often go out of my way to say kind words to my loved ones. I am quite shy until approached, so I wish people would not be afraid to introduce themselves to me.”
I’m Muslim, But I’m Not…
I’m Black, But I’m Not…
Matthew had many passions as a child; he grew up in a musical family, citing his heroes as his Mom, Metallica, and Beethoven. He also lived next to an airport and spent hours fascinated watching planes coming and going, but his love of history was ultimately the driving force that led him to Germany, where he decided to get his masters degree in Modern History. A tenacious student, Matthew had to be fluent in German to write his final thesis. It was in Hamburg he took his first flying lessons, starting with gliders, the purest form of flying, as he says, “no second chances at landing.” After returning with a new wife to Austin TX in search of a museum curator job that didn’t’ materialize, he changed course, took out a loan and continued his flying lessons. He’s been flying for over 16 years and at 32,000 ft, believes he has the best office window view in the world. He never tires of amazing sunsets, majestic mountains and the sight of a wild storm up close. His new favorite place to explore is Mexico City. If time allows, he likes to take a self-guided architecture tour and end the day getting blown away by the passion and talent of the National Symphony Orchestra directed by Carlos Prieto.
Matthew is proud of his 3 accomplished daughters and believes America is the land of opportunity and has been kind to him. He likes to return the favor by volunteering for OBAP.org, an organization dedicated to encouraging people of color to explore the aviation industry. The 3-year-old in this picture made a beeline for him in the departure lounge – a new recruit in the making.
He doesn’t do social media but if you see him on your next United flight, give him a thumbs up or show him some love in person. When you get to know real people, your brain lets go of stereotypes. skinisskin…go beyond.
Malia is a melting pot. Part Chinese, Greek, Finnish, and Irish, she was bullied at school because her genetic medley was not quite enough of any one thing to belong to a particular group. Malia’s childhood was spent on Long Island, with some tough emotional and financial times due to her Dad’s long illness and crippling medical costs. From a young age, she was determined to go to law school so she could write policy demanding equal access to healthcare. After receiving her law degree, Malia was feeling the heavy weight of her $142,000 of debt, but imagine her surprise, when one day, it all disappeared. Turns out her favorite grandfather, Papou, had secretly paid it all off. Her Papou was decorated with the Purple Heart during WWII, but when he left the Army, he had trouble finding work and ended up as short order cook in diners for 20 years, where he squirreled away his surprise gift for Malia.
Malia would also have a Ph.D. in caring and comedy if there were such a thing…she wears her emotions on her sleeve, and you are invited along for the ride. Even though she now has a lovely husband and wide circle of friends, she has a soft spot for the strays, outliers, and misfits. If we were giving out civilian medals, we would award Malia the Brave Heart. Try to stay curious about people beyond the skin, that’s where the real beauty lies.