From working at Goodwill, I’ve become acutely aware of the stigma that exists regarding Goodwill workers. We’re seen as impoverished, uneducated, mentally disabled, pitiful human beings. When customers are angry, they lash out as I’m sure they do anywhere else, but they carry with them this idea that Goodwill workers are unable to do their jobs. Unfortunately, they are treated that way, too.
It’s hard for me to watch, not only because I know I’m not a lower-class citizen, but because I know these people I work with and neither are they. It has become ever-apparent to me that the way my coworkers are perceived is not always an accurate depiction of their character. Since we only know people for all of two minutes, our first impressions are highly biased and often wrong.
It’s easy for me to see the biases in other people and judge it. So, that’s when I started looking at my own internal and implicit prejudices.
And boy, do I have so many. Internally and implicitly, we have a system of bias that shapes the way we view people. We don’t initially think of people for who they are, but for the way they appear. And for some reason, that’s all that matters.
Honestly, I make assumptions of all the costumers of Goodwill. I think they are poor since they shop there. When I see people of different races at work, I make the first assumption they don’t speak English. So I don’t attempt to engage in conversations quite the same as I would with another costumer. When an older lady with blond hair and a stern face walks up to my register, I assume that she must be a snob. I make assumptions that those with southern accents are less educated. I make assumptions based on how they’re dressed. I assume and assume and assume.
I wish I didn’t. I challenge myself everyday to not assume that a person is the same as the one before them or the stereotype. But it’s a challenging thing to do. We all have prejudice built into us. But that shouldn’t impact the way we treat people. We can’t eliminate our initial thoughts, but we can try to think deeper into that thought and try to change our behavior.
We all have a responsibility to treat one another respectfully and to recognize a person’s character isn’t defined by our prototypes. And we all have the responsibility to challenge ourselves and identify when we are allowing our biases to influence our behavior. After all, that’s how prejudgments become discrimination.
We’re not responsible for our initial thought or reaction, but we are responsible for our second thought and our first action.