Fixing Racism racism is at the root of many of humanity’s evils Gurdeep Parhar TEDxStanleyPark

Translator: Queenie Lee Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Chinese? Bad drivers. (Laughter) Italians? Mafia. Mexicans? Trafficked drugs. Irish? Drunks. Middle Eastern people? Terrorists. Racial stereotyping is very common. Racial stereotyping often leads to misunderstandings, discrimination, and sometimes even violence. Six million Jewish people were killed during the Holocaust because someone thought they belonged to an inferior race. Millions of African people were bought and sold as slaves, and killed because someone thought they belonged to an inferior race. Millions of indigenous people around the world have been oppressed and killed because someone thought they belonged to an inferior race. Most recently in Rwanda, a million people, as part of an ethnic cleansing, were killed because someone thought they belonged to an inferior race. I grew up on the north coast of Canada. When I was a child in school, we would change out of our regular school clothes into our gym or exercise clothes, and we did that in the locker room. In that locker room, when I was all alone, partly dressed -- my feet were bare because I was changing my shoes from my regular shoes to my gym shoes -- two big bullies came and found me. They came up to me and they said, "Hey! You, Paki. You, Hindu." First I was just confused. Because I wasn't from Pakistan. (Laughter) So the word "Paki" didn't make any sense. I wasn't Hindu, so the word "Hindu" didn't make any sense. Were they mixing me up with someone else? My feelings of confusion were quickly replaced by fear because I realized the meaning of those words didn't matter, because of the venom and the hatred in their tone. I realized those words were meant to insult me; those words were meant to hurt me. This happened week after week. When I was alone in that locker room as a child, these bullies would find me. I didn't know what to do. The way I dealt with it was, I wouldn't make eye contact with them, I would look down at the floor in that locker room, and I still remember the blue tiles to this day. I still remember the cold under my bare feet making my feet chill. I would keep staring down at the floor, not making eye contact with the bullies. I just kept thinking to myself: I hope they don't beat me; I hope they don't hit me; I hope they go away. I was very frightened; I was very scared. I was too embarrassed to tell my teachers; I was too embarrassed to tell my parents or my sisters; I was too embarrassed to tell my good friends. I'm telling this story for the first time today. I'm telling the story because I'm tired of looking at those blue tiles. I'm also tired of feeling the cold under my feet. But most importantly, I'm tired of being frightened. That locker room- (Applause) (Cheers) That locker room story has an ending. But before I tell you the ending of that locker room story, let's talk a little bit more about racial stereotyping. Sometimes racial stereotyping isn't frightening, it isn't scary, it's just awkward. So I'll be at a party, having just a splendid time, a cocktail party, but just a great time, and then the inevitable happens. Someone comes up to me and says, "Tell me about your culture." Yes, it's usually someone white. (Laughter) Before I tell you my answer, you need to know a little bit more about my history. I came from India to Canada when I was a year old, and we settled in Northern Canada. My earliest childhood memories are snow and ice, lots of snow and ice. So when someone says, "Tell me about your culture," my immediate reaction is ice hockey, salmon fishing, and black bears. (Laughter) The person asking the question is perplexed and confused. I think they think I didn't understand the question. (Laughter) Because what they really expected me to say was that I was an expert in samosas, the Taj Mahal, and the Kama Sutra. (Laughter) So interestingly over the years, I have become an expert on those three things too. (Laughter) (Applause) (Cheers) I'm seeing the fear and panic in some of your eyes. Don't worry, I'm not going to demonstrate that expertise right now. (Laughter) Racial stereotyping is really common; we all racially stereotype. Why is it common and why do we all racially stereotype? We do it because that's the way our brains work. Our brains are wired to recognize patterns. We recognize a pattern, and then we attribute characteristics to that pattern. As a doctor, if I'm seeing a patient for the first time - let's call her Maria - I see Maria is large in appearance. I've never spoken to Maria, I've never examined Maria, and Maria is walking towards me. Because of her large appearance, what's going through my mind is, I have to check Maria's blood pressure because she's at risk for having high blood pressure; I need to check Maria's sugar because she's at risk for having diabetes; I need to examine Maria's knees because she's at risk for having arthritis. The amazing thing is, all that's happening without me knowing it, that's happening subconsciously, that's subconscious bias. What I need to remember though is that when I check Maria's blood pressure and it's normal, I check Maria's sugar and it's normal, I examine her knees and they're normal, then I need to shift my thinking of Maria. Because otherwise, without even have spoken to her, I've given Maria and myself three diseases to worry about for her. (Laughter) The same thing happens when you see someone that belongs to an ethnic group that's different than your own. You see someone standing across the street wearing a turban. It's very natural to attribute characteristics to that person wearing a turban based on the one other person you've interacted with who's also wearing a turban. The same thing happens when you see somebody with a body piercing, or a tattoo, or speaks with a particular accent: we recognize a pattern, and then we give characteristics to that pattern. But why do we give characteristics to that pattern? We do it for three reasons. The first is that we often have a very limited experience of dealing with people who belong to that ethnic group. So if you had interacted with not one but a hundred people wearing turbans, you would quickly understand that group was pretty diverse. And because it's diverse, the next time you'd see someone wearing a turban, you couldn't generalize or stereotype. Because that group was so diverse. We have limited experience of dealing with different ethnic groups, and so for that reason, we stereotype and we generalize. The second reason is that the media re-ingrains and re-emphasizes stereotypes. When something horrible happens in France or the Middle East, the media reports it as, 'There were members of a particular faith group, ethnic group, this community group,' and that then stays with us. We start to think that the entire community or the entire ethnic group behaves like that. So the media is partly responsible for our stereotyping. The third reason is, it's so much easier and requires less work for us to think that a group is entirely homogeneous and the same, rather than get to know them as individuals. Getting to know somebody individually and uniquely within a group takes a lot of effort. So we sometimes take the path of least work. Those are the three reasons that we take that pattern and attribute characteristics to it. What we always need to remember is that we recognize difference. We all see color, we all see difference, and we all have a subconscious bias. The important thing is not to let that subconscious bias operate back here. When you take that subconscious bias, bring it to the forefront, put it on the table, deal with it. Because we all have that. The other really important concept to keep in mind is that racial stereotyping often happens even if we have the best of intentions. In our schools, in our community centers, in our law practices, in our medical practices -- we are hungry; we are starving to learn about people that are different than us. Why? Because we want to serve those community members very well. I want to be the best doctor I can be; my colleagues want to be the best lawyers; people want to be the best teachers, and we can only do that if we understand our constituents, our community members very well. So we use terms like cultural awareness, cultural sensitivity, cultural tolerance, cultural safety, cultural competency. Can we truly be culturally competent in someone else's culture? When I was early in my young days as a young doctor, early in practice, I had this really sweet Indian grandmother as a patient. She would walk in to see me, and she would be walking very slowly with this cane. Every time I saw her, she was wearing this elegant sari. She lived with her husband, her kids, and her grandkids, and she told me she prayed and meditated three times a week. She was feeling a bit tired, so I had arranged for some blood tests. I found, when the results came in, that her iron was a bit low. Knowing that she wasn't going to be crazy taking iron tablets, and knowing that she was vegetarian, I thought I’d be really a comprehensive doctor, so I sat down and found all these vegetarian foods that she could eat that were rich in iron, so that she could improve her diet. When she came in, I told her about her low iron, and then I said, "And these are all the foods that you should eat." Some were straightforward, like spinach, some were a lot more complicated. I was going through the recipes one by one and how she could prepare the food. As I was going through this, it was taking a bit of time, she got really overwhelmed and stressed. She looked up at me and said, "Wouldn't it just be a lot easier if I ate two hamburgers a week?" (Laughter) (Applause) I was stunned. I didn't know how to respond, and she said, "I love hamburgers." (Laughter) I had made the mistake of stereotyping. I thought that because I understood her family, her community, her faith group, her ethnic group, that I understood her. I had stereotyped. We just need to all remember that we do tend to stereotype, but we need to be humble and have enough humility to know that we can correct that. Why is this issue of racial stereotyping so important to me? Let me take you back to that locker room. Week after week, when I was partly dressed, barefoot, alone in that locker room in Northern Canada, those two bullies would come in calling me 'Paki' and 'Hindu.' I decided I actually needed to do something other than just avoiding their gaze. I decided I needed to win their respect. Surely if they respected me, they would stop calling me names. They would accept me, also. First, I thought about sports. I know, you're looking at me as this amazingly muscular athletic guy, right now... (Laughter) And you're probably thinking I was always amazing at sports. The truth of it is, I wasn't very good at sports. Really, I wasn't. I was never going to be the next hockey superstar, like Wayne Gretzky, so I said forget about sports, I'm going to focus on academics; I'll impress the bullies with academics. (Laughter) What I did was, I studied really hard, and I got the top marks, which was okay. But I also did science projects and science experiments, and one of them I had a ton of success with. What I did was, I took chicken manure, and I converted it into fuel. And this got me all sorts of attention, nationally and so forth. Then I worked with this Canadian university professor, and we figured out how to take the chicken manure and the chicken waste, and we were going to use it to meet the energy needs of developing countries. So I got all these awards and national media attention, I was offered scholarships everywhere. I had made it. In fact, I got so much fame and attention that when I graduated high school, in my high school yearbook, where they say the future graduates are likely to do whatever, I was the graduate voted the most likely to produce a chicken-manure powered space shuttle. (Laughter) This was success. After all this, I went back into that locker room, again, changing for gym exercise class, partly clothed, feet were bare, and in walked the two bullies. I was ready. I left my eyes off the tiles and actually looked them, for the first time, right in the eyes, and they looked right back at me. And they said to me in that same hateful voice, "You stupid Paki, you dumb Hindu, of course, you know all about chicken manure. That's your Indian culture; that's all what you do and know in Hindu land." My eyes went from theirs back to the floor, the blue tiles, and the cold crept through my feet. That's one example of many in my life where I've been racially stereotyped. We need to do three things, all of us, to do reduce the negative impacts of racial stereotyping. The first: Admit to yourself, be honest with yourself, that you see difference, that you see color, and that we all have a subconscious bias. When someone says, "I treat everyone the same, I don't see color." If someone says they don't see color, tell them to see an eye doctor, something's wrong with their vision. (Laughter) There's something wrong with their vision if they don't see color. Recognize that we all have subconscious bias, bring it to the forefront and deal with it. The second thing is that when you're interacting with a group that you think is different than your own, and a member in that group that you think is different than your own, try to find at least one thing in common with that person. I can guarantee you that you'll have more in common than you will have different. Our differences: the color of our skin, our head covering, our clothing, our music? All external. Inside we're pretty much the same. I can tell you, as a doctor, our blood is the same color. Thirdly, when you're interacting with someone in a group that you think is ethnically different than yourself, get to know them as an individual, get to know them uniquely. That way you're going to be less likely to generalize and stereotype. That entire group, get to know them as individuals and not as a group. 30 years later, I still have nightmares about those bullies. I still see the blue tiles, I still feel the cold under my feet, I still hear their voices, I still feel their hatred. We all need to make sure that there's no child, anywhere in the world, that's as frightened as that kid in that locker room. (Applause) (Cheers) We all need to make sure that we reduce the negative impact of racial stereotyping. We all need to fix racism. Are you ready to do that? Audience: Yes. (Applause) (Cheers)