The Brainy Stuff

I’ve done a lot of thinking, reading, studying, and working on learning about myself, the history of racism and other human rights issues, and how to be an ally and an anti-racist.

I don’t profess to be an expert, but I am always learning and trying to do better…and I have been since years before it was “trending”, so I’ve accumulated a few things that might be helpful to people now that there are more people trying to “wake up”…and I want to share as much of it as I can. If it’s helpful to anybody, it’s worth it. So…here we go 🙂

Chapter 1: How do we start to talk about all of this? We establish “common vocabulary.”

So, when I first joined the Army- I started out in the National Guard under what was called the “split training option.” I was still teaching band and was deeply passionate about it, so I opted to complete my initial entry military training in two separate summers, (for better or for worse….) along-side the 17 and 18 year old recruits who had decided on military service following their high school experience.

If I were to restate that information in “Army Speak” I could shorten it to say- “I am pre-service and chose to do the split-op for IET, so I ended up doing BCT and AIT at different times.

I’m sharing that example because it really highlights the importance of having shared vocabulary. If we don’t– you can’t understand that second sentence…which can be the difference between someone hearing the words out of your mouth and somebody actually hearing you.

That example is also extremely relevant to me, because since I was in the National Guard….I was allowed to drill/work (musicians in the Army can do that, because we already play our instruments) with my unit for 8 months before I went to Basic Combat Training.

Think about that. I had to work. As a soldier. In the National Guard. For 8 months. Before I knew anything about the National Guard or the Army. For 8 months I had to go to drill not understanding the vocabulary, guessing at acronyms, and doing my best to understand what people were talking about using context.

To be completely transparent….prior to investigating enlistment….I thought the National Guard was sort of like a branch of like…EMT services or something? I had to YouTube how to correctly assemble my uniform for my first drill. I promise, I recognize how much of a tragedy I was(/am).

So…as we go into this blog– I’d like to start to establish some common vocabulary and throughout the blog, I will continue to add. Knowledge is power and I want us all to be on equal footing as much as possible.

So here’s what we’ll start with. Just a few concepts and/or words that are sometimes misinterpreted or aren’t immediately understood.

Stereotype: A widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

Prejudice: An opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.

Discrimination: To make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing on the basis of the group, class, or category to which the person or thing belongs rather than according to actual merit.

Microaggression: A subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other non-dominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype.

Honestly that’s a lot of information to digest, so this is a good moment to pause and digest for a bit. You can even come back later if you want.

I’m actually sort of telling you that you should. But I can’t make you do that in the actual sense of having you go away and do something else for a bit while you mull over the things we just talked about.

What I can do is put this picture here.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 54799365_10218013936276413_8186301644355403776_o.jpg

Which will, because of how our brains work, act as sort of a mental palate cleanser…it’ll give your mind a teeny break before you choose to move on into this next chapter- even if you didn’t actually stop reading. Hope it helped 🙂

Chapter 2: Bias

So, while we’re talking about common vocabulary, we have to also start to create some common conceptual knowledge. A HUGE thing we need to talk about is bias. To start, here is the definition.

Bias: A particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned.

Basically, something we tend to do or think, but not on purpose.

To me, the definition is clear, but it’s not….urgent enough. It doesn’t indicate the severity of the consequences that come along with being unaware of our biases. It doesn’t remind us that we are ALL susceptible to many types of bias, because we are human. It doesn’t warn us that we can’t combat bias with working hard, money, or being kind. Or inform us of the one method we do have to fight back against bias….which is actually relatively simple. We need to know about it ahead of time.

We have brains that are made up of many different parts. Some of those parts are logical and analytical…some are artistic, linguistic, or kind….and some of them are literally just there to keep us alive by making our heart beat, our lungs breathe, or making us choose in an instant whether we need to flee or fight.

When we know about bias in advance, we can request that the logical parts of our brain make logical decisions and take over, instead of letting the “keep us alive” part of our brain (where bias is hanging out) make the decisions about our actions.

It’s kind of like when you’re watching a movie and somebody spoils the ending for you. You might be completely surprised by the ending if nobody says anything, but if you know ahead of time, you notice all these little details throughout the film that were hinting at the answer all along (think “Sixth Sense” 90’s kids). So if we know about “the ending” aka our biases in advance…we can be on the lookout for those things ahead of time.

Nobody can agree upon how many biases there are….but there are a lot. We are human, after all. I will confess to pulling many of the definitions of these biases from wikipedia (unless otherwise noted), because I think they are succinct and helpful- but I chose these particular biases based on the several different psychology classes I took while training as an educator in college and the additional classes that I have taken on equity. So it’s not just me making opinionated crap up. It’s coming from an informed place.

Important biases to know as we move forward are:

Affinity Bias: the unconscious tendency to get along with others who are like us. It is easy to socialize and spend time with others who are not different. (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/diversity-inclusion-awareness/0/steps/39958)

Confirmation Bias: Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less attention to information that contradicts it.  

False Consensus Effect: The tendency for people to overestimate the degree to which others agree with them.

Fundamental Attribution Error: The fundamental attribution error is the tendency for people to over-emphasize personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while under-emphasizing situational explanations. In other words, people assume that a person’s actions depend on what “kind” of person that person is rather than on the social and environmental forces that influence the person. (https://www.simplypsychology.org/fundamental-attribution.html)

Ingroup Bias: The tendency for people to give preferential treatment to others they perceive to be members of their own groups.

Self-Reference Effect: The tendency for people to encode information differently depending on the level on whether they are implicated in the information. (ie. if it relates to them personally, they remember it better).

Shared Information Bias: The tendency for group members to spend more time and energy discussing information that all members are already familiar with and less time and energy discussing information that only some members are aware of.

I’m sure, if you’ve read this far….you can probably see why and how those particular biases relate to this blog and discussions on racism and/or other types of discrimination. Still….it’s worth it to share them with you explicitly, so you have the terminology and can use it as a tool in your future conversations with other people about these issues.

Chapter 3: Some Other Terms People Kinda Don’t Get

Race VS Ethnicity

Race: Is a purely social construct (not scientific or biological) that is used to categorize people by the perceived (visual) color of their skin. IT DOESN’T ACTUALLY EXIST. Woah.

Ethnicity: Is when someone belongs to a social group that has a common national or cultural tradition like language, religion, geography, food, etc. (Note…although it is often the case that skin color is shared across groups of people who share the same skin color….skin color itself is not a part of what “ethnicity” means.)

There is a lotttt more to discuss in regards to these but for now…it’s enough.

Equality VS Equity

This picture does a better job than I would of summing this up.

Chapter 4: LGBTQRS…TUV….WXYZ

LGBT: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender….these are the most widely known and general terms for sexual orientation and sexual orientation out there.

I’ve also seen….LGBTQIA2S….etc. So…..why are there so many dang letters? Because it makes people feel seen and understood. It also gives them the vocabulary to talk about themselves and their experiences.  Having words to talk about your own identity is an extremely powerful tool.  “All these letters” don’t exist just to confuse straight people….they exist to affirm and validate the lives of the people who identify in these categories. I would say that the vast majority of people won’t bite your head off if you get it wrong or are confused for a bit as long as you’re willing to be corrected and trying to learn.

Queer: Similar to how the term “Black” has some negative historical connotations for people of color– the community of people who identify as something other than straight or cisgendered have done leg work to “take back the word” ‘queer’ by removing the negative meaning and using it as a way to express either a sexual orientation that doesn’t quite fit into a box or as an umbrella term for the community as a whole. This word, however, can occasionally be still viewed as hurtful so if you’re worried, you can just wait and see if somebody else uses it first.

Sexual Orientation VS Gender Identity: Sexual orientation is a person’s potential to be attracted to someone– romantically and/or sexually and what kind of person (or people) they feel that towards. Gender Identity is talking about a person’s concept of themselves and if they view themselves as female, male, neither, or both. These two concepts are often talked about simultaneously, but they are not the same thing.

ALSO. There’s a difference between sex and gender. Oofdah. I know it’s a lot. Here’s an easy way to think about it though.

Sex: What’s between your legs

Gender: What’s between your ears…as in…your brain.

(I stole those definitions from Robyn Ochs. Check her out, she’s amazing http://www.robynochs.com and here’s another fun way to think about it….the artists’ info is on the pic).

Here are a final couple of definitions:

Cisgender: Someone whose birth genitalia match their assigned gender.

Transgender/2S: The term transgender or Two-Spirit (as it is often referred to in Native American/First Nations culture) refers to somebody whose sex and gender do not align.

Binary vs Non-Binary: When people talk about “binary” in terms of human sexuality- they are referring to societies typical adherence to viewing a person as either male or female. So when somebody states that they are non-binary- they’re just saying that they don’t fit into that specific structure.

LAST ONE, I promise!

Intersex: Refers to somebody who is born with ambiguous genitalia. I’ve found that a lot of people still use and think the word for that is “hermaphrodite”….technically it used to be, yes. But please don’t use it anymore. It’s pretty archaic.

Yes it can be confusing. Yes, sometimes people unfairly call people out for being “homophobic” or “cisgendered scum” when really, you’re just trying to figure everything out.  If you’re able—try to take these things in stride, because a) when somebody is a jerk, it’s because that person is a jerk, not because they’re part of the rainbow community and b) you never know how many times that person has been cut down for their identity in the past….so they might have just learned aggressive and defensive behaviors as a coping mechanism.  It doesn’t make it right, but if you can think about it from an empathetic perspective, it makes more sense and feels less frustrating. 

Chapter 5: This seems like a tidy number!

There is no fifth introduction to the blog chapter…yet….but 5 seems like a nice number, so I’m wrapping it up here. Enjoy the actual blog!


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