Implicit Bias

Recently, there was an On Being interview with Mahzarin Banaji, a professor who studies implicit biases. I liked what she had to say:

I do believe that, in our culture and in many cultures, we are at a point where our conscious minds are so ahead of where our less conscious minds are. Our conscious minds deeply believe in egalitarianism, in selecting people based on things called merit, on talent, and not based on the color of people’s skin, or their height, or whether they have hair on their head. And yet, we are doing that.

And so I like what you just said which is “implicit” just allows us to shed that whole sort of moral encasing in which so much of our values about — “Am I a discriminator or not?” — comes. That I am especially interested in, letting people let go of that sort of sense — “I’m a bad human being.” The title of the book, therefore, has been Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. And the “good people” is extremely important to me. I do believe that we have changed over the course of our evolutionary history into becoming better and better people who have higher and higher standards for how we treat others. And so we are good. And we must recognize that, and yet, ask people the question, “Are you the good person you yourself want to be?” And the answer to that is no, you’re not. And that’s just a fact. And we need to deal with that if we want to be on the path of self-improvement. 

I, myself, am not free from implicit bias. After I listened to the interview, I took Banaji’s test on gender (here: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/) and found I have a Moderate bias with regard to gender, even though I am a feminist.

Banaji says, “It is my job to tell people to feel uncomfortable, to squirm, to go back and think hard about where they come from and so on…Because if we don’t, we’ve basically given up the most fundamental aspect of who we are and what we prize and value, and what I believe is at the heart of social change…There’s nothing about this issue that is simple, but I have every faith that we will come out of it if we don’t hold back, if we keep talking, and if we try to understand what the other is saying.”

So, let’s talk about it.

For me, I have been thinking about how I’d like to read up more on the history of Asian-Americans in this country. I’d also like to read up on African-American and Latino history in our country as well. I would like to read up on the construction of race. Also, novels. Read more books by people of different races and backgrounds to feel what people’s lives are like in this country and the world. I would like to write about those books here.

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