PRESIDENT'S CORNER: I am Biased, Are You?

Crystal Hawkins Syska | February 9, 2021

Crystal Hawkins Syska, HGAR President 2021

When I was dating my better half, we spent a lot of time at Gedney Park in Chappaqua with his three daughters, ages 12, 10 and 7 at the time. We loved getting nets and trying to catch tadpoles and water snakes and little lizards that frequent the pond, as well as racing up and down the hill, walking the path and playing in the playground. I was one of the few adults who would go down the slide. Hey, you are only as old as you feel, right? We were regulars there every other weekend. On one particular weekend, one of the other parent regulars came up to me and said, “You are so good with the kids! I see you here all the time. I wanted to ask you what company or agency do you work for?” I got excited and told her Keller Williams in White Plains and promptly grabbed a card from my cardholder in my back pocket. The woman turned really red and I could tell she was uncomfortable.

Was I too “salesy” just then? I internally questioned myself. I asked her if she had seen one of my real estate ads online? I asked because I was surprised she knew I was a Realtor. She hurriedly said that she did but couldn’t remember where I worked. She thanked me for my time and hurried on. That same scenario would be repeated two more times from different park frequenters. On the third occasion when I gave the person my card, they stopped and said, “Oh, I am really sorry and embarrassed. I thought you were the kids’ babysitter. You know what, that will teach me a lesson. I am so, so, sorry.” She was nearly in tears. The conversation went on and she asked me about myself and who the kids were to me and I let her know I was dating their dad. The conversation totally ended nicely and she did refer me to a real estate deal later on. However, on that day, I walked away with a sinking feeling.

You see, deep inside I knew what they were asking me, but I told myself it wasn’t the case. I am a black woman with three white children in a park in Chappaqua, and they saw me as “the help.” That is implicit bias. Now just to be clear, this didn’t happen in 1965, it happened in 2014. This would happen again under a different set of circumstances. When the oldest was in high school, I would drop her at school most of the time. A rumor was going around school that she was very wealthy and she didn’t understand why. One of the kids told her, “Well, your Nanny drives you to school like almost every day.” She told them she didn’t have a Nanny; she was confused. It hurt to break it to her that it was because I was “black.” She still didn’t understand, which touched my heart. Now, if any of you are thinking this is an “honest mistake,” just ask yourself, when have you been mistaken for your kids’ or step-kids’ babysitter? Did it happen more than five times in a calendar year? Okay, that’s implicit bias.

The Perception Institute defines implicit bias as:

“Thoughts and feelings are ‘implicit’ if we are unaware of them or mistaken about their nature. We have a bias when, rather than being neutral, we have a preference for (or aversion to) a person or group of people. Thus, we use the term ‘implicit bias’ to describe when we have attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge. A fairly commonplace example of this is seen in studies that show that white people will frequently associate criminality with black people without even realizing they’re doing it.”

Hey, don’t feel bad. I am biased too!! There was a very tall, burly white man that approached me with a beard, shaved head and tattoos. His face looked menacing to me. And he was riding a motorcycle. You know where I am going here, right? We made eye contact and as he approached I could feel my heart jump. In like the sweetest voice ever, he told me how he loved my hair and has been trying to convince his wife to get dreadlocks or braid her hair. But, he didn’t know where to go. They were new to the area. He showed me a picture of his wife who appeared to be African-American. Can you say “embarrassed?” I knew what I was thinking about that guy because I associated him with a stereotype. I didn’t know him. But, I made an assumption about him based upon how he looked. Then I began to wonder if he was really “menacing” at all, or did I just perceive him that way? It’s not about hate to prejudge someone without any knowledge of them. Yet, it is worthy of attention and is an area for adjustment.

Implicit bias shows up in how we perceive people other than just by their race. This is something we can’t just turn off or on. It’s deep-seated, learned behavior or attitudes that we are not even conscious of. In this area, we are the same people when we work in our profession as Realtors as we are at home. The aim is to become “aware” of it, so that we can work in a way to counteract it. Only in this way can we truly serve the public.

Sometimes our implicit bias may lead us into actions or behaviors in which we believe we are being “helpful” when performing our duties as Realtors. The National Association of Realtors has developed a training simulation to assist us in identifying areas for growth and of strength.

To those ends, the staff of The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors will be undergoing Implicit Bias Recognition training. This will be facilitated by Dr. Nicole Furlonge of Columbia University. She is also working with our Board of Directors to enrich us in our listening skills, understanding and navigating implicit biases and furthering the strategic plan of our organization. Now, here is where you all come in. It is my desire that 80% of our producing membership take the FairHaven Simulation training from NAR. This is one action you can take in “doing the work” toward fulfilling “The American Promise” I spoke about in last month’s Real Estate In-Depth. I hope you enthusiastically do so voluntarily. It will help our association be better tooled in performing as agents in our community…and it’s even free! https://www.nar.realtor/fair-housing/fairhaven

Crystal Hawkins Syska
is the 2021 President of the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors, Inc