Invisibility

A story was related to me some years ago by a family who for the first time got black neighbours. Walking past one day they saw the neighbour doing her garden. The four year old child asked why the “nanny” was cutting the flowers. Despite the parent’s best efforts to bring the child up to be non-racist, the child clearly was a product the environment over which the parents have little control. Whether we like it not, as we grow up we develop attitudes and beliefs that become filters that distort our ability to see the world as it is. Some of these we are taught, some we absorb by witnessing the beliefs and practices of our society. Some might be coherent with what we ourselves believe and some might contradict our preferred values. Because we are unaware of these beliefs they operate in the background. Until we are confronted with their consequences they remain opaque to us. These taken for granted beliefs and assumptions guide us about where to look for wisdom, intelligence of skill and where not to look. We believe for example that the HR manger has more insight into the company than the lady who serves tea. I could show you cases where the opposite is true. We tend to believe that people who have been educated in private schools and speak with the correct English accent are more intelligent than people whose English is not fluent. One expresses oneself with more richness and nuance in ones mother tongue than in a second language.  Showing ones potential in an English dominated world if that is not your mother tongue really challenging. The victims of this blind-spot in people, who have power, like manager’s watch with despair as lesser skilled or intelligent colleagues get ahead, simply because they look and sound right. Despite the goodwill of many, it these types of subtle issues in our society that make people feel as invisible as the glass ceilings that block their progress.

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