So You Flunked A Racism Test. Now What?

More on the inbuilt biases and prejudices that we all have:

You’re probably at least a little bit racist and sexist and homophobic. Most of us are.

Before you get all indignant, try taking one of the popular implicit-association tests. Created by sociologists at Harvard, the University of Washington, and the University of Virginia, they measure people’s unconscious prejudice by testing how easy — or difficult — it is for the test-takers to associate words like “good” and “bad” with images of black people versus white people, or “scientist” and “lab” with men versus women.

These tests find that — regardless of how many Pride parades they attend or how many “This is what a feminist looks like” T-shirts they own — most people trust men over women, white people over minorities, and straight people over queer people. These trends can hold true regardless of the gender, race or sexuality of the test-taker. I’m from India, and the test found that I’m biased against Asian-Americans.

There is research indicating that these types of implicit prejudices may help explain why cops are more likely to shoot unarmed black men than to shoot unarmed white men, and why employers are more likely to hire white candidates than equally qualified black candidates.

….Perhaps more important than the lasting effects of this particular approach, Paller’s findings are proof that our implicit attitudes are malleable — and maybe, just maybe, it is possible for people to let go of prejudice for good, if they want to. But it won’t be easy.

“Adults have had years and years of exposure to stereotypes,” Paller says. And biases take hold early — studies have found that kids as young as 4 and 5 show racial and gender bias. “It can take a lot of effort to reverse that.”

Paller stresses that this is very preliminary research. To confirm the results, a lot more people have to be tested. “Plus, we still don’t know if changing people’s results on the implicit-bias test translates to them acting differently toward minorities in the real world,” he notes.

The bottom line: There’s no silver bullet, says Anthony Greenwald, a social psychologist at the University of Washington who helped develop the implicit-association test. At least not yet. “But I’m open-minded,” says Greenwald, who wasn’t involved in Paller’s study. “It will be interesting to see if these results can be reproduced.”

Greenwald, who perhaps understands more about bias than just about anyone, has taken the implicit-association test himself. His results haven’t budged over the years. He’s still biased along racial and gender lines, he says, “even though I really don’t like having these biases.”

And while it may be hard to correct such inbuilt bias, it starts with being more mindful of such associations and automatic thinking.

So You Flunked A Racism Test. Now What? : Code Switch : NPR.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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