Hearing Otherness

It was Valentine’s Day in 1995. Our living room was re-arranged to resemble a church.

I wore a hand-made pink dress with tuille. My nanny, Thedy, walked me down the isle. An officiant stood next to my mom’s boyfriend, not my dad. I began to get confused. I scanned the room flushed searching for my dad. I looked up at my nanny and asked, “Why is he there? He’s not my dad. Mommies and daddies are supposed to be together. He’s going to ruin everything.”

My mom walked in wearing a white dress.


This is happening too fast.

I have to stop it.

My mother cannot marry a man who isn’t my father.

I did what I knew how — I cried. I screamed. I yelled stop. I yelled no. I ruined my dress.

My mom quietly had my nanny take me to the backyard.

My nanny then explained to me that not all love stories end up happily ever after, and that not all mommies and daddies are together forever. I believed her, yet I couldn’t accept this was reality. This was the first time my beliefs differed from reality. Little did I know what was ahead.

Reflecting back on this moment, I remember how my nanny gave me a sense of calm amidst the chaos in my mind. That’s why the events over the past few weeks have created such an internal turmoil. They have felt like a direct attack on my family, my beliefs, and have tainted my notion of progress.

Just as when I was a child, this is a reality I cannot and will not accept. But before I act, before I speak, I want to understand, How did progress lead us here? For that answer, I turned to Malcom Gladwell who notes: “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We're a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don't really have an explanation for. Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking.”

In on our lives, we are inundated with associations, which slowly shape how we perceive the world and how we explain the world. Malcom Gladwell in his novel Blink calls this phenomenon “thin-slicing” and notes “we can know more about someone in the blink of an eye that we can after months of study.” (Gladwell, Blink, 76)

Gladwell shares the following:

Over the past few years, a number of psychologists have begun to look more closely at the role these kind of unconscious — or, as they like to call them, implicit — associated play into our beliefs and behavior, and much of their work was focused on a very fascinating tool called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). (Gladwell, Blink, 76)

He continues to note something distressing about our unconscious,

The disturbing thing about the (IAT) test is that it shows that our unconscious attitudes may be utterly incompatible with our stated conscious values. As it turns out, for example, of the fifty thousand African Americans who have taken the race ITA so far, about half of them, like me, have stronger associations with whites than with blacks. How could we not? We live in North America, where we are surrounded every day by cultural messages linking white with good. (Gladwell, Blink, 85)

Gladwell is not alone. This is a time where the notion of justice and injustice has become blurred. We see Jeffrey Epstein’s ability to silence the hundreds of women willing to testify against his sexual assaults on them. We see men in power touting racism and beckoning that times were better during the Jim Crow days. This is the media that children are seeing, and unconsciously, they are making implicit associations that will remain with them the remainder of their lives.

Let’s take a look at some more of these cultural messages in greater depth, and how some attempts at progress have been squashed by racism and people of power.


By the age of two, there are already statistical variations in the educations of whites verses black. The pygmalion effect takes hold and is compounded by the inability for families to afford a better education for their children.

As Lindsey Cook noted in her article “U.S. Education: Still Separate and Unequal,”

The gaps persist throughout schooling, at fourth, eighth and 12th grades, according to a report from the Forum on Child and Family Statistics. On the SAT, black students had a mean score of 428 for critical reading and 428 for math, compared with mean scores for white students of 527 for critical reading and 536 for math.

Although minority families have access to education, these open doors often come at a price. Teachers found at minority school tend to be less experienced and have lower pay, which ultimately leads to poorer education, lower SAT/ ACT scores, and more barriers to higher education for minorities.

There is also a correlation between motivation and peers. If a minority is surrounded by high-performing peers, a motivated child is much more likely to succeed; contrarily, place that same motivated child in a classroom full of unmotivated students and (s)he is less likely to succeed.

The statistical gap can be measured at age two and persists even at the highest levels of education. CJ Libassi in his article The Neglected College Race Gap: Racial Disparities Among College Completers notes there is a clear educational race gap for higher education that needs more attention. Schools with minorities as the majority of students lack the funding, resources, and credentialing of other institutions.

The problem continues. Students at these universities need to be provided with resources to help them graduate, which includes impartial advisors. CJ Libassi notes,

Advisers may be explicitly or implicitly discouraging black and Hispanic students from pursuing degree types that cost more to produce or are perceived to be more rigorous. This latter problem could be especially prevalent in majors, such as engineering, where many programs use their introductory classes to weed out weaker students and may be doing so in a way that is ineffective or discriminatory.

When we talk about current events, and how we got here, it didn’t happen overnight. It was years of gentrification, creating educational barriers to entry for minorities, and continues to be fueled by thin-slicing collegiate advisors who dissuade minorities from pursuing more rigorous careers.


“We must call systemic oppression as a doctor would a disease. You identify it. you call it out. You treat it. And you defeat it.” — Colin Kaepernick

Kaepernick took a knee as a form of protest to Donald Trump, police brutality, and his oppression, noting “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” His protest was adopted across the country by many athletes, sparking televised peaceful protests that had immense visibility…but not everyone agreed nor tried to understand why he was protesting.

The aforementioned is s a great example of Gladwell’s quote: We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.”

Reactionary, many began to burn their Nike shoes as a form of protest after Kaepernick was signed on by the athletic apparel company. Some even cut the Nike swoosh logo out of their socks as an act of hatred towards the brand. Jimmy Kimmel noted about the protestors: “Why not just burn your money? You already bought the clothes.”

In contrast to the laughs Jimmy Kimmel received for his comments, there is something deeply disturbing in the reactionary protest. It failed to listen and to see what Kaepernick was protesting. This was not about Nike; this was about speaking against how a minority is being treated by people in positions of power.

  1. The burn your Nike’s protest was for white supremacy and to further create a disparity between us and them.
  2. After his protest, Kaepernick wasn’t able to get re-signed by an NFL team. The teams were too afraid of a backlash; and isn’t that a theme that led us here? The fear to stand for something is usurped by the fear of our peer disapproval or loss of revenue. Big corporations continue to place their people over their profits, and it’s affecting more than people. It’s seeping into and is destroying the entire fabric of our ecosystem.

Before we react, we must listen. Before we speak, we must hear.


There’s a passage in Judaism that states: “Wisdom is chiefly found in those who are quiet and opt to learn from their teachers rather than state their own views. For the individual gains nothing from saying aloud his own opinions, but does benefit from listening…and therefore there are two eyes to help one see (others’ views) in written form, and two ears to help one hear (other’s views) in verbal form, but only one mouth. So in these times before we speak, we must listen to understand. Before we speak, we must see what they see. Then we can use our voice can be an effective agent of change.”

The Donald Trump error occurs when one speaks before listening or viewing a problem from any other points of view. When this happens, oftentimes, the mouth shares only one perspective of the problem. This is the most dangerous perspective because it fails to consider other’s plights and experiences. It can be an egregious error for our experiences and perceptions of an event differ greatly from those around us.

For example, I have never once been concerned about being pulled over by a police officer. My parents never had to educate me about what to do if I was pulled over, where to keep my hands, and where to look when interacting with an officer. Conversely, Sandra Bland was verse in police interactions and knew that officers could pose a threat to her safety.

Bland was pulled over by a police officer for failure to use a signal. Bland was aware of her rights and exercised her First Amendment right to speak up against the injustices being done to her. The officer then used force, and became so enraged that he pointed his gun at her, and yelled “I will light you up! GET OUT! NOW!” He repeated this several times, then pulled her out the car, and arrested her. After several days in jail, she committed suicide.

New York Times image and caption: In a cellphone video recorded by Sandra Bland, Trooper Brian Encinia could be seen drawing his stun gun and heard saying, “I will light you up. Get out. Now.” Investigative Network News & Documentaries/WFAA

Failure to listen to Bland’s recorded experience with an officer would result in a misinformed statement. Failure to hear the arresting officer’s threats and how he leveraged his position of power to belittle, demean, and without warrant threaten an innocent woman would result in supporting behavior’s and injustices in the world.

We need to curtail the spread of misinformation by using our eyes and ears to become informed before we speak. When we spend time to hear others and really see through others’s view points, we magnify our ability to impact change.

So what do we do about this?

Use your eyes and ears before your mouth.
I may not understand what you’re going through, but I want to advocate for you. The most effective way to do this is to become informed and listen to others.

For instance, former President George W. Bush writes an incredibly sympathetic statement about George Floyd, noting that he “resisted the urge to speak out, because this is not the time for us to lecture. It is time for us to listen.”

Right now, if you feel that your beliefs differ from your current reality, pause and listen. This is battle has been waging for more than a half century. If we want to see the change in our lifetime, we need to empower all voices to be heard. That starts with listening then amplifying these voices using our own to affect the change we want to see.

So I ask you: Are you ready to listen?



Product Designer who is passionate about eliminating barriers to access.

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Sophie Shrimpton

Product Designer who is passionate about eliminating barriers to access.