Vishavjit Singh: “Battling Unconscious Biases” @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

[MUSIC PLAYING] [APPLAUSE] VISHAVJIT SINGH: Thank you, [INAUDIBLE] Thank you, everyone, for being here And so I am going to be talking today about labels, stereotypes, and creating stories Let me get started, actually So from the day we're born labels are placed upon us So I was born in a Washington DC hospital, and one of the first things that get placed upon you, at least in the United States, is a race label

So if you look at your birth certificate, there's actually a race column And interestingly, in my case, most people cannot get what my race actually says Anybody want to take a guess what my race column says on my birth certificate? AUDIENCE: Asian? VISHAVJIT SINGH: Asian That's a good guess AUDIENCE: South Asian? VISHAVJIT SINGH: South Asian

Another good guess Incorrect guesses Anybody else? Think a bigger demographic group Very big AUDIENCE: Chinese? VISHAVJIT SINGH: No

So let me answer that question for you And I'll show you my birth certificate for that, actually Bottom left corner I'm white And I know you probably are thinking, wait a minute, that doesn't make sense

So let me put it this way The label "white" itself doesn't make sense There are no white people Technically, there are no white people If you look at a white piece of paper, I don't think you know any other human being on this planet who looks white

Neither are there people who look black But there's a long history behind why we have terms like "black" and "white" A long history of demeaning people, defining them, confining them, justifying slavery But that's not where I'm going to go today But I just want you to sort of, for a moment, realize I had this label placed upon me because technically, in the pseudoscience of racism, all South Asians are considered Caucasian

And we, as Americans, confuse Caucasians for white people Not all Caucasians are white people So technically– just remember this, for all of you who hail from South Asia– you're white people This is me in elementary school And so I spent the first four years of my life in Washington DC, Maryland area, moved with my parents to India– who were from India

And among many other labels, one of the things that happens is you follow your parents' lifestyle So whatever their faith or belief system is, you don't get to choose it You get to kind of follow it At least in the first few years I did that

So you see that bun on top of my head My faith at the time happened to be a Sikh faith, a young religion from India And as part of that faith we don't cut our hair Both men and women, we keep long hair Boys keep their hair in a bun, including men, but as young boys we wear these little, small turbin called "patkas

" The reason I'm showing this photograph to you is for another reason though You notice I started wearing glasses really early on Now, glasses are considered pretty cool these days You have a lot of different brand names Everybody is sporting new glasses all the time

Well, when I was a young boy, putting glasses on was not a cool thing It unfortunately made me very open to targeting by bullies And not only bullies, actually, out on the streets or in school It was actually loved ones at home, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins who just thought, you know what? You don't look good, man Somehow physically there is something not acceptable about your appearance

And so what happened is, after a few months and years people started using the word ugly to refer to me in comparison to my brother, who happened to be handsome I knew that My brother knew that But we didn't have to say that to each other But unfortunately society has to project its insecurities, their own fears and anxieties

So that's how a lot of my loved ones kept telling me as I was growing up Something's wrong with you, Vishavjit You don't look good You're an ugly kid So by the time I was a high-schooler I got convinced

I bought into that label So my struggle was, OK, how do I overcompensate now? So how do I prove my worth? So the way I proved my– the way I choose to prove my worth was, well, let me see if I can study really hard and go to one of the best universities on the planet And that's how I'm going to prove my worth So that was– as a young boy I have these labels placed upon me, and now those labels are driving my life-changing decisions What do I need to do? Where do I need to go to school? So that became a vulnerability

And that's something we all carry So this was a man-made, humankind-made vulnerability that I had to carry with me And then something drastic happens by the time I go to University of California, Santa Barbara This is sophomore year But before I actually give you a little back story on this I want to sort of talk very briefly about another impact labels can have

So I mentioned I happened to be Sikh That's one of the labels people put on me I happened to be of Sikh faith As a young boy, in the year 1984, I happened to be in New Delhi when the Indian prime minister was killed And for a few days in the first week in November anybody who had that label on them, Sikhs, mostly men, turban beards, were targeted and thousands were killed

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