I have a thought experiment. What if we all had to wear a pin button on our shirts for a week. The pin buttons have the following messages on them:
“Police feel threatened by me.”
“People think I’m lazy.”
“People think I’m too emotional and indecisive.”
“People think I’ll always put my family ahead of my career.”
“I didn’t graduate from a top school.”
“I don’t belong to the right country club.”
“People associate me with COVID.”
“People think I want to hurt businesses.”
“People think I hate immigrants.”
What if society forced these pin buttons on us, and we had no control over what they said?
We can go around asking people, “How would you feel if police were statistically more likely to kill you because of the way you looked?” People would probably agree that it wouldn’t be fair. But the whole idea might soon be forgotten as an intellectual exercise.
It’s a different issue if I somehow draw police officers’ attention to you, if I make them more likely to scrutinize your actions and visit forceful, deadly action upon you. It’s more personal.
The same thing goes for the other labels. What if I were able to, through no fault of your own, persuade your boss that you are not as desirable a worker as you might appear to be?
Also, we should recognize that discrimination harms everyone. It’s not just because of lost productivity and diminished well-being to some for no good reason. It’s because everyone can be judged lesser in some way, and suffer discrimination in some form.
Now let’s take my thought experiment to the next level. What if many of us wore these pin buttons around the same time, for example, the first one around Black History Month? If we deliberately assigned negative stereotypes to people not usually associated with those attributes, would it help us expose society’s hidden biases?
What if we also randomly wore pin buttons year round, to remind ourselves to work against discrimination?
The common advice to put ourselves in other people’s shoes is often not specific enough. It doesn’t always help us fully appreciate the discriminations others face. Let’s disrupt discrimination and open eyes by labelling everyone instead!