Are You Racist? Check Your Parking.
Psychology has shown that we all have biases, things that make us think or feel about others who are different from us, and things we think and feel about those who are similar. We act on them unconsciously and in predictable and unpredictable ways.
One unpredictable way that people show their bias is with cars. I call this Sam’s Racist Car theory.
Cars are an interesting thing. Most of us have hundreds of makes and models and colors to choose from. We usually feel drawn to a certain style, make, and color. We find that which matches our personality. A car can say a lot about your background, your hobby even your politics. However, the color of a car says little about a person. This is because 80% of people pick one of three colors: black, white and grey. The rest of the 20% go for red or blue and the rest of the colors are probably in 1%. So besides obvious clues of a few cars like a lifted truck with an American flag or a lowered small car with gold rims, you really can’t see the race or religion of a person inside. Especially if the car is parked.
So if people had no biases, it would mean that the color of a car would not matter, especially when they park, especially when there are plenty of open spaces.
And yet, something that I noticed and have been documenting in my mind for many years and therefore have lots of data which I have not written down but at this point, feel is true (doesn’t mean it is). What I noticed is that cars tend to park next to cars of the same color. I will see a row of white cars on a street or in a parking lot. I will see a row of red and blue cars. There will be grey, tan or black cars. I will see the same thing sometimes on driveways, where every car in the driveway will be red, or grey or white.
Now when a parking lot is full, people just grab any spot they can, and so there is less uniformity. But the more open spots there are, the more likely it is that people will park next to a car of a similar color, even if it means driving longer and sometimes parking on an opposite side of a street!
I have even noticed it with myself that I will drive around a parking lot and something within me say “no” when I see an open spot, and then I would pull into a spot and I would notice that the cars next to me are the same color as mine, or same make, or both.
This to me means that something in our coding, our DNA from the time of when we roamed the land in beautiful colorful regalia like Native Americans or indigenous of other lands, told us that people who wear similar color, are ours and different colors are foreigners.
Of course, we use color to denote friend and foe all the time. There’s a reason why sports teams have the same color jerseys instead of different colors. Makes your fellow teammate easy to recognize in a fast-moving sport. We work with our biases to help teamwork. Colors are trademarked to a company so that it is easy to identify a product and company brand. Colors are great for knowing if something is healthy and green or dangerous and red. We need these biases to survive and work with others. But these biases are pernicious as they also make us pick the blond over the brunet, the man over the woman, the white guy over the black guy and disregard the talent or other factors that make them compatible or valuable to an organization.
These limitations we set on ourselves can go even further. They can prevent us from going after hobbies, making friends, and even to people who we date and do not date, regardless of our race or religion. In fact, the biases by the way are not just important to watch out for the white male in our western society, they are also important for the women and minorities.
There are many fields today which lack diversity not because there are powerful gatekeepers, but because the same bias works in us to keep us from certain jobs. Jewish people might avoid menial work that they might enjoy because they don’t see other Jews working those jobs. Black people might avoid certain classes and certain jobs because they don’t see black people there. A woman might avoid applying for a position because she doesn’t see other women or a man feels like it is not a manly job because there are women.
So biases can be used by the powerful to keep out the less powerful but also prevent the less powerful from making use of opportunities they have that are not closed to them.
However, we don’t have to live with a bias. Once you know that these biases are in us, once you have seen yourself park next to a white car when there was a better spot next to a black car, then you can identify this bias, and work around it (we can’t change nature). You can create ways to evaluate and rate talent and other attributes that are important, reduce the gut in important situations where the decisions have a long-lasting impact. Teach your team to watch their biases and use them wisely by using the positive and reducing the damaging negatives. Teach your children to look for character traits not for what someone looks like or what they wear. When we are mindful, when we are cognizant of who we are, of our strengths and weaknesses, we are able to use all of our powers, to accomplish our goals and live better lives and be better people.