What we don’t see

There was a time in my life when I believed that everyone, at their core, was essentially Jamaican.

I probably wouldn’t have said it that way, but that’s what it boiled down to. Growing up in Jamaica, in the dominant majority culture, it was easy too think everyone had the same core beliefs and experiences, because everyone I met, and everyone who was respected, had those beliefs and experiences. So those things are just part off being human and deep down, everyone’s human, right?  So deep down everyone is like me.

The obvious problem was that for years I missed the ways that people were, deep down, not like me. It took me even longer to realize that their experience of the same world I lived in might be different from mine, even if we were right next to each other. I found myself able to rationalize away those experiences as isolated, unreal or unimportant. It turns out, that they were real. One of the major disadvantages of being a member of the majority or dominant is being blind to what others may see, and I was blind, and probably in some ways I still am.

The following headline and quote jumped out at me when I saw it.

Men are treating 2016 as as ‘normal’ election; women aren’t – Five Thirty Eight

To put this year’s gender split into a little more context: Trump’s 7-percentage-point lead among men is about how well George W. Bush did with men in 2000. If we had an average gender gap this year, we’d expect Clinton to carry women by between 5 and 10 points (given how men say they are going to vote). That kind of gap would result in a close race overall, which is exactly what the state of the economy suggests should be occurring.

Instead, Clinton is leading by about 6 or 7 percentage points nationally in the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast. Basically, the vote among men looks “normal”; the split among women does not. That is, the historically large gender gap this election is because women are disproportionately favoring one candidate (Clinton) — to an extent we wouldn’t expect them to in a normal election given the “fundamentals.”

It seems that women in this election overwhelmingly see something that says this isn’t just the regular battle between two less than ideal candidates. It also seems that whatever it is that women are seeing, as a group, men aren’t.

Unfortunately, this particular form of dominant culture blindness is not limited to the election. If you are a man reading this, you probably don’t think that women are saying proportionately less in meetings or classes than the men are. You probably think that their views are given equal weight as anyone else who is equally qualified. While stories and statistics say otherwise, it’s not something you’ve ever seen, so it probably doesn’t exist in your spaces.

While it is possible that your office, school, or community may be unusually woman friendly spaces, it is more likely that, as a member of the dominant group, you don’t see the ways in which those spaces aren’t women friendly. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, it means you’re a human who happened to be born into the dominant culture.

What it does mean, is that when you hear a story like this one, when the non-dominant culture says something that doesn’t fit with our perception, it’s our responsibility, and our challenge to listen.

And to do something about it.


Photo Credit: paolo bosonin Flickr via Compfight cc