“We’re so surprised! You are also competent in this field!”

Over the years I’ve become increasingly aware of  how the phenomena of implicit bias/stereotype threat affect me more professionally because of my nationality (I’m not from an English speaking country) than any other identity. I never felt discriminated against in my own country when I was a graduate student there, nor  did I feel insecure or threatened in any way for the years I was back as a post-doc. But I’ve had very awkward experiences mostly with North-American academics.
– I was once at a workshop in my home country where most speakers were invited North-American academics, mostly from a prestigious American university. There were also academics from other universities, but their names were indicated by the main Professor of the prestigious university attending the workshop. All their expenses were paid by the local organizers. This was a common practice up to the recent austerity policies adopted in most of Europe. There was a French Canadian speaker giving a talk. I corrected the speaker’s English once, when the person made a very blatant mistake. The speaker said: “I can’t believe I’m being corrected by a …[my nationality was mentioned]”.
– on that same occasion, another very lively speaker tried to show his gratitude for the invitation, but ended up saying: “We just thought we were going to come here (such a nice place in the world to visit), see each other and give our talks, but we’re so surprised! You are also competent in this field!” Speaker did not realize awkwardness.    
– While attending a conference in the UK, a North-American academic implicated that I was white European trash, not knowing anything about my family or ethnic background.
–  I organized a major conference that took place at a very special venue earlier this year. I asked all the chairs of the sessions to be very punctual since we had people from the institution where the conference was taking place waiting on us. The only chair that allowed one session to take twice as much as all the others was a northern European. When I pointed out that it was really important to keep the schedule in that institution, he said he didn’t want to be the strict northern European, and would like to take the occasion to let his [my nationality]-side come out.

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