Okay, so maybe I wasn’t hip enough to know who Rag n Bone Man (born Rory Graham) was, but since his recent appearance on the Jimmy Fallon show, I am now enlightened. I’ll cut myself a just little slack since his first hit single, “Human”, peaked at number one in the Official Singles Charts in Austria, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. It was also certified Gold in Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands, but hadn’t seemed to have gone mainstream in the U.S. just yet. Did you know who he was? If you didn’t, you do now and you’re welcome.
He stood behind the mic for a few seconds before he started singing, certainly commanding a presence on stage with a full-on Duck Dynasty style beard. I remember thinking, “oh, this guy is probably a country or hard rock singer.” And as he began to belt out the soulful track titled “Human”, I remember thinking, “wow, I got that one wrong!” And while I couldn’t see them while he was performing, I have come to learn that he has a tattoo on each hand, that spell out “soul” and “funk.” Well, that would have been a helpful clue, Rory! After he finished that song, I wasn’t yet sure what genre he considers his music to be, but remember thinking that I personally wouldn’t call it country or hard rock. I figured it would be worth checking him out on iTunes (I know, as my kids tell me, also uncool these days). He had me sold after a couple of songs so I immediately downloaded it. By the way, he’s listed as Alternative on iTunes, but I’ve also seen his music described as Hip Hop.
My point in sharing this experience with you is that while I’ve been a diversity management practitioner for almost 20 years, even I get it wrong sometimes. We will ALL get it wrong sometimes. If you’ve ever read Malcom Gladwell’s Blink or Mahzarin R. Banaji’s Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, you’ll know where I’m going with this. It’s actually quite a normal function of the human brain to fill in information shaped by our life’s experiences and filters until and unless that space is filled with fact. We tend to call it stereotyping, unconscious or implicit bias, prejudging, etc. The bottom line is that we need to own the reality that we all do it, whether we are conscious of it in the moment or not. The science leads me to believe that you won’t be aware of it. Not realizing this in and of itself does not automatically make us bad people suffering from the “isms.” When it crosses the line from human nature to bad behavior is if we make a conscious choice to deny contradictions made to our original, split-second assumptions and/or if we purposefully perpetuate stereotypes we know to be false. As I often say – first time errors are mistakes; repeated errors are intentions. In a future blog I’ll share with you a similar encounter I had with a young pig-tail and denim-overall-wearing young lady I met on a plane. Yes, that’s a real thing.
If we are to have truly productive conversations about diversity, we must be open to acknowledging that we are hard wired to pre-judge and stereotype as part of our human condition. It’s the only way we will progress beyond talking at each other and past each other, to talking to each other. I’m more than willing to admit that sometimes I get it wrong. As Rag n Bone Man would soulfully say, “I’m only human after all, don’t put the blame on me.”
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