Some people think that racial bias is a thing of the past and we have entered a “post racial” phase. The behavior and statements of L.A. Clippers team owner Donald Sterling remind us that we are not there yet.
Some are shocked. Many are surprised. Some are neither. Those who are familiar with Harvard’s ongoing project called the “Implicit Association Test,” initiated in 1998, understand that this is likely just the ugly tip of an iceberg. The IAT reveals that “[m]ost respondents find it easier to associate African American with Bad and European American with Good compared to the reverse.” In fact, most people (70%) who take the IAT show a strong, moderate, or slight bias against blacks and towards whites.
The test takes about 10 minutes to complete online and, according to the IAT results page, it “measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report.” Simplified, it works something like this….
The participant is shown a picture of a white or African American person. Each picture is has an adjective or description below. The person taking the test has the job of pressing a computer key to move to the next picture. Participants are more likely to take more time to press the button if, for some reason, they feel that the words and the picture do not match. For most people, that means a hesitation for a picture of an African American with a word like “professional” or “intelligent” and a faster response when presented with a picture of an African American and a word like “athlete” or “basketball.”
On the other hand, most will quickly press the button to advance when viewing a picture of a white man with the word like “professional” and slow when viewing a white man with, say, a caption like “criminal.”
I took the test recently and my “data suggest[ed] little to no automatic preference between African American and European American.” Considering that 7 out of 10 people show bias against African Americans and only 3 out of 10 people don’t, my results are not the norm. A 2005 Washington Post article on the IAT, “See No Bias” stated that 88% of whites tested showed a bias against blacks and towards whites. Unfortunately, similar bias was found in 48% of black participants too. These widespread feelings of bias have a real impact on us and affect us in so many ways. From education, to our careers, to our interactions with law enforcement, to our health. Many researchers have catalogued the added stresses facing African Americans from being subjected to these biases, and how it impacts our health.
I plan to investigate the role bias plays in preventing us from living our best and healthiest lives, and seek out answers to what we can do to improve our experience. Why don’t you take the Implicit Association Test too? See how you do….
–Janell Mayo Duncan
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