A Colorful Conversation with Pooja Kothari of Boundless Awareness

How to Handle Unconscious Bias While Planning Your Wedding

Different worldviews can affect how different people feel about and experience different situations. During wedding planning, everything from food selections to whether or not to follow certain religious traditions can become a minefield of microaggressions.  

Every couple deserves to be treated with compassion, respect and dignity throughout the wedding planning process. I invited Pooja Kothari of Boundless Awareness to have a Colorful Conversation about unconscious bias and the dynamics of planning a wedding. 

How to (and Why) Identify Your Own Bias First

Pooja had this beautiful statement at the beginning of the interview. She said,

“If you want to change the world, you have to start with yourself.”

We all have unconscious biases. The tricky thing about unconscious bias is that you’re not aware of it. So there’s a lot of work to be done just to become aware, and a lot more work to unpack and diffuse those biases. This can take a long time. 

The real problem with unconscious bias is that we inadvertently hurt people when we project our norms onto others and assume they share the same norms. Even though we don’t intend to hurt people with our assumptions and biases, we often do just that.

To become more aware of your unconscious bias:

  • Start by taking the Harvard Project Implicit test to find out your implicit associations about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other topics. 

  • Get curious about the roles and responsibilities you have for everyone during the wedding planning process. 

    • Think about what traditions you wish to incorporate or not. Get curious about what assumptions you have about them. 

    • Consider how you divide up the work and responsibilities of planning a wedding. Can you uncover any larger assumptions about how we divvy up work and why?

  • Consider each person individually, getting strategic about individual strengths and weaknesses rather than relying on “norms” to guide decisions. 

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How to Prepare Guests for Your Wedding

It can be nerve-wracking to, for example, invite a bunch of your diverse New York City friends to your wedding where your conservative family members will also be in attendance.

You may be concerned about how your conservative uncle will react to your queer Indian best friend, or your gender non-conforming partner. 

The best way to manage is to start having conversations early and let guests know what to expect.

  • Talk about the different people who will be at your wedding and the different backgrounds they represent. 

  • Be clear about what mainstream guests can expect.

  • Be even more clear about what’s expected of them.

Deciding Whether or Not to Tackle Difficult Conversations Yourself

As Pooja explains in the interview, these conversations can be difficult. Confronting and changing implicit bias can take a long time and how people respond depends on their personalities. 

A person with unconscious bias may not immediately understand your point of view or why you’re bringing the topic up. Or worse, they could get defensive. 

Only you can decide whether or not to tackle difficult conversations yourself. 

Pooja offers the following advice. 

“Don’t feel like it’s your job to change people or deal with their bias.”

If you are in a marginalized group and dealing with a constant barrage of microaggressions on top of the already naturally stressful wedding planning process, you may want to consider finding an ally to have difficult conversations on your behalf. 

Allies can often be the best champions to teach other mainstream people. 

Remember, it is not your job as a marginalized person to teach or change people. 

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Build a Brave Space

If you believe you can have a productive and loving, though still difficult, conversation about unconscious bias, Pooja suggests you create a “Brave Space.” A Brave Space establishes rules of engagement for the conversation and include: 

  • Listen and hold back judgement.

  • Get curious about everything.

  • Move and speak from a place of compassion.

Tips for Avoiding Microaggressions and Unconscious Bias with Wedding Vendors

If you are a member of a culturally marginalized group, you may be shocked by the microaggressions lurking in many conversations with wedding pros. Pooja shares a story of a wedding vendor who asked her and her soon-to-be wife “which one of you is getting married?” 

Comments like these meant that Pooja and her partner would potentially be coming out to strangers throughout the wedding planning process. 

Eventually, Pooja created a system for vetting vendors beforehand. She suggests: 

  • Call ahead of time and cut right to the chase. Ask immediately about how the vendor feels about working with people from your background and if they have experience doing so. 

  • Look for their automatic response. Do they answer quickly and positively, or get uncomfortable? 

  • Come up with a few standard responses to insensitive questions that help you maintain your own boundaries. 

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Mentioned in this interview

Where to find Pooja

Website: BoundlessAwareness.com 

Instagram @boundlessawarenessllc

Facebook @BoundlessAwarenessLLC