Friday, June 01, 2007

I am a Racist

I have recently run across an extremely interesting project being done over the internet by Harvard called "Project Implicit". The project consists of a variety of tests designed to discover implicit or subconscious biases, attitudes, or preferences you may have about a certain people group.

The test I took examined your implicit preference of European Americans or African Americans. The test consisted of a two groups of words: Negative words such as failure, terrible, nasty, awful, etc., and positive words such as wonderful, happy, love, etc.. For the first section of the test, you must categorize each word as either good or bad by pressing the button corresponding to each word. (Good is on the left, bad is on the right). You must do the test as absolutely fast as you can, so it measures your automatic or implicit ideas. If you think about it too long, your data will not be accurate.

Next, the categories change. There are no longer words that you must categorize, but pictures of faces. The categories are not good/bad, but African American or European American. So you are shown a picture of an African American, and you are expected to press the button corresponding to African American. Simple enough, right?

The final section of the test is really where things get interesting. Both of the previous two tests are combined into one. The button on the left now stands for either good or African American, while the button on the right now stands for bad or European American. You're then shown either a word or a face and you must classify it accordingly. Later, they are switched so good is joined with European American and vice-versa. The idea is that (as a white person), it may subconsciously harder to associate positive words with African-Americans than European Americans.

When I finished I must admit, to my shock, I failed miserably. The pronouncement was "Your data suggest a strong automatic preference for European American compared to African American". I figured, "This can't be right." I took it again, but ended up with the same results.

I didn't want to believe it at first, but the more I thought about the study and methods used, the more I had to accept that it really did reveal some subconsciously buried things about how I view people.

I began to look around the site for more information. I was able to find a little consolation in the FAQ section of the study:

If my Black-White attitude IAT shows automatic White preference, does that mean that I'm prejudiced?

Answer: This is a very important question. Social psychologists use the word 'prejudiced' to describe people who endorse or approve of negative attitudes and discriminatory behavior toward various out-groups. Many people who show automatic White preference on the Black-White attitude IAT are not prejudiced by this definition. It is possible to show biases on the IAT that are not consciously endorsed, or are even contradictory to intentional attitudes and beliefs. People who hold egalitarian conscious attitudes in the face of automatic White preferences may able to function in non-prejudiced fashion partly by making active efforts to prevent their automatic White preference from producing discriminatory behavior. However, when they relax these active efforts, these non-prejudiced people may be likely to show discrimination in thought or behavior. The question of relation between implicit and explicit attitudes is of great interest to social psychologists, several of whom are doing research on that question for race-related attitudes.

This test has forced me to be completely honest with myself to discover that this description probably fits me very well. Most likely, I do have an "automatic White preference", but my "egalitarian conscious attitude" prevents me from "producing discriminating behavior".

The next question is, how do I change this automatic preference? Is it even possible?


I highly recommend taking the test. (Once you accept the disclaimer, choose the Race IAS near the middle of the page). It may very well tell you something you didn't know about yourself. Even if not, it will be interesting at the least.

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