There are several apartment buildings next to my condominium complex. You can tell from their exterior design and paint, the buildings have been around for generations. I moved into our complex a little over a year ago. On my very first week living there, one of the neighbors kindly reminded me not to walk towards the apartment buildings’ side because “bad things” have happened in the past. Therefore, ever since that conversation, I have always made a right upon exiting my complex, away from the apartments.
But of course, I drive by these apartment buildings every day. I often see little pink bicycles and children’s toys lying outside on the grass, families’ front doors left open on hot summer nights, families having birthday parties and yard sales outside, and most importantly, there is the live mariachi band playing loudly on weekends. By "loudly", I mean the kind of loud music you can hear a mile away.
I have thought about knocking on their door to complain or even calling the cops this past Saturday afternoon. But then I would think to myself: They usually play during civilized hours, and again, “bad things” happen when you set foot into that area. Needless to say, I did not like “those” neighbors so much, even though I had never bothered to meet them or introduce myself.
This attitude lasted until several days ago when I saw my neighbor, Kevin, post a new article he wrote for his blog, titled “The Sounds of Mexico”. I immediately clicked into it because I knew exactly what he was referring to – the loud music on this past Saturday. Kevin wrote:
“It was a quiet afternoon in the neighborhood. I was sitting in my rocking chair near the open window in my bedroom, reading the end of a book, and waiting for the next load of laundry to finish. The relaxing music of Jack Johnson, Kenny G, and Bob Marley was playing on Pandora Radio on my computer. An ideal Sunday afternoon, for sure. Then it started. The Mexicans are having a party in the apartments to the east of our complex. I’m enjoying it immensely.
When the mariachi music began, I got up and turned off Pandora. Instead of listening to a stream of songs familiar to me, I’m now being entertained by a live band, playing a wide array of Mexican favorites, no doubt. I don’t know this for sure, but I’d guess that a few of my neighbors might be just a little annoyed by what they perceive to be the “noise” coming from our neighbors. I prefer to take a different angle on the situation.”
READ KEVIN'S BLOG POST HERE
And you can imagine how ashamed and self-absorbed I instantly felt as I was reading Kevin’s blog.
Kevin and I both live in the same complex. He is the kind of good neighbor anyone would be so lucky to have – respectful, friendly, and always fun to chat with. As a retired teacher, he dedicates his time to improving the safety of our streets by working with the City, making our complex a better place, attending community events, and supporting good causes, such as FACES. Simply put, Kevin cares about our community deeply.
On the other hand, there I was making arrogant assumptions about people I had never gotten to know or even meet! Have I ever fallen victim to or witnessed any criminal activity in that area? No. Do I even know what kinds of families/people that live there? No. Then I need to make a conscious effort to let go of my implicit biases and start to get to know the people who share the same street with me. They might have a different religion, live a different lifestyle, and enjoy a different type of music.
This is what we talk about at FACES all the time: Don't assume; strike a conversation and get to know your neighbors. This is how we eliminate prejudice and build empathy.
It's never easy to admit and address these feelings and biases for anyone - but isn't recognizing one's problem a big step towards recovery?
You will probably also be glad to know that ever since I read Kevin’s blog post on Monday, I have been taking walks alongside the apartment buildings every day and introducing myself to my "new" neighbors. Guess what? I feel much happier and safer.
According to the Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute, “Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.”
Have you ever discovered your own implicit biases? Share your story with us!