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Home / Articles / Columnists / On the Bright Side /  Confessions of a Middle–Aged White Woman
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Wednesday, July 6,2022

Confessions of a Middle–Aged White Woman

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
I had an unfortunate look in the proverbial mirror the other day. It made me uncomfortable, like pit-in-thestomach uncomfortable. It caused me to examine many assumptions I had about how I exist in this world and how I impact others. About how I am perceived and, perhaps more importantly, how I perceive others.

My white, middle-aged, un-woke self displayed an unconscious bias that was pointed out to me by a dear friend, who happens to be 25 years my junior and was visiting from France. We were at the Fresh Market, and a young man in the line next to ours recognized me from 16 years ago, when I was his high school psychology teacher.

I was flattered that he would recognize me all these years later, and we had a light conversation about that being my first year teaching there, and how nervous I was. He complimented me and said he loved the class and was even interested in getting into psychology. I asked him what brought him to this market, as the market was a good half hour from the school where he attended – 16 years ago! It didn’t occur to me that he might be a young adult with a life of his own.

In fact, it gets worse. My friend and I got to the car and loaded the groceries. She said, “You know he was a client, no?” which means, a customer. I said, “No, he was working in the store – he was the bagger.” Have I mentioned, or need I, that the young man was black?

“No,” Lucie continued, “he was a client buying groceries. Just like you. You have an unconscious bias.”

Ouch. Just as I was about to dig deeper and explain how sure I was about my assessment of the situation, Jason walked by with his groceries and got into his Acura.

We smiled, waved, and Lucie said, “You see?”

“How did you know?” I asked her.

“You didn’t ask him any questions. He said he was interested in psychology, and you didn’t ask him why or what he is doing now or anything about his life.”

I had assumed I knew his life. He was a bagger at my grocery store. Was it because he was young? Black? Either way it didn’t matter. I didn’t see him.

I told friends about what happened. Some nodded in agreement that we have a ways to go in our awareness. Others tried to say I was being too hard on myself. I don’t think so. My ignorance was something I was unaware of, and I will do better.

It upset me to my core because I care so much about equality and fairness and all of the “isms!” I try so hard to walk the walk of the talk I talk. So I admitted my mistake and did not try to excuse it. I sat with the awkward awareness. Honestly, it bothered me for at least 24 hours.

I embraced it, understanding that pain is necessary for growth. I could not believe the blind spot. But there it was. And I was no longer blind. This time.


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