I’ve spent the better part of my life trying to curb knee-jerk judgements. It’s difficult to fight the urge to categorize and generalize based upon where people live, how they dress, how they speak, and what groups/religious organizations they belong to. Perhaps this is implicit bias that we are all (or some of us) fighting. Tralient, a website focused on professional compliance training, points out that implicit bias or hidden bias occurs whether a person realizes it or not. In fact, unconscious bias can even be in direct conflict with the person’s belief system.
A film I really didn’t expect to connect with, based on my bias toward its title, Infinitely Polar Bear bonked me on the head. It’s definitely not the kid’s flick its title implied (to me, at least), although it does have a pair of really awesome child actors, Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide. The story unfolds with Cameron, played by Mark Ruffalo, cavorting about with and without his kids, acting out in unconventional bizarre ways that can be a bucket of fun for kids—for a while. But as any family who has lived with the specter of mental illness knows, Cameron’s bipolar disorder, combined with acute alcohol sensitivity is disruptive in social situations, and he can’t be relied upon as the family bread winner because his alternate state of reality gets him fired faster than he gets hired. It falls to his long-suffering wife Maggie, played by Zoe Saldana, to keep the bills paid, food on the table, kids scrubbed and off to school in time. Her acceptance to Columbia University—with a scholarship—to obtain her MBA creates a dilema. How can she attend an expensive school in Boston, while not disrupting her kids’ education at one of the best public schools in NYC? If Cameron can hold it together as head of the household for just 18 months, she can emerge with a better chance at a living/thriving wage.
Set in the mid-70’s, the film depicts gender disparities that exist even today. Maggie’s promotions are routinely thwarted when men in power discover she has children—the third strike against her, in addition to being a woman with dark skin. Her in-laws accuse her of being a women’s libber for seeking upward mobility and denigrate their son for not being a man. They’re in complete denial about his condition and the fact that he is not capable of being the bread winner. The house husband watches mothers at the playground bonding and enjoying each other’s company. He is never invited to join them for a cup of coffee. He is infinitely lonely, alone with his children, like a polar bear.
The only social construct that was missing or was very obliquely raised was Maggie’s dark skin, and how being black may also have contributed to her inability to move up the corporate ladder. How much did her skin color have to do with where she was able to find affordable housing? How much of her wealthy in-laws’ unending disapproval of her has to do with her hair and skin color?
And how many times have I shied away from a person with obvious psycho-social problems? How many times do I turn away in revulsion from people with political and religious beliefs that are contrary to my own? I’ve got a lot of work to do.