Unconscious Bias

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When Libby Echeverria entered her local coffee shop, she saw trouble brewing. She didn’t expect what happened next.

Last week I went into my small, family-owned neighborhood coffee shop for a morning cup. Walking in, I saw four young men in their early twenties. One was black, two Latino, one Middle Eastern. Two were wearing hoodies, and they were showing each other their tattoos. I stood in line to order and thought about unconscious bias, and how many would feel uncomfortable or even frightened of them.

Then, a homeless man came in, covered in leaves, his hands dark with dirt. He waved a large gray feather, loudly asking the room, “Does anybody want a feather?” No one responded. I cringed and wondered how the owners would respond. Ask him to leave? Call the police?

Instead, I watched the homeless man shamble forward and order coffee and a bagel. The man behind the counter treated him with respect and courtesy. I looked over to my left, and the four young men had pulled out Bibles, and were in an animated discussion about a passage from Philippians. An older man reading in the corner noticed that the homeless man had nowhere to sit to eat his breakfast, He rose and carried a chair over to him and said, “It seems like you need this,” and then resumed his seat and his book.

Unconscious bias is a funny thing. It’s not just other people who have it. I realized that through breathing the toxic air of our country these days, I have developed an unconscious bias that I can’t trust people to do the right thing. I am on edge, expecting to vault into action. But this was an ordinary coffee shop, on an ordinary day, with ordinary people. They were courteous, trusting, respectful, diverse, accepting. There was no hero nudging them. It was a community. I am proud to say these are my neighbors. I left with my coffee and thought, “Cheers Mr. Rogers. It’s a beautiful day in my neighborhood.”


With a Perspective, I’m Libby Echeverria.

Libby Echeverria is a social worker and mother. She lives in San Jose.