Think You’re Not Racist?

Think you’re not racist?

Go to https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ to find out.

First you’ll fill out a survey asking how racist you are. You’ll probably think you aren’t. But a test of unconscious attitudes will likely suggest otherwise.

In the test you will be asked to quickly categorize whether a face that appears on screen is black or white. Next you will be asked to categorize whether a word is negative or positive. All this is very quick and easy. Then you will see a screen like the following:

     Black Person                                                      White Person

            or                                criminal                                or

         Bad                                                                             Good

Your job is to categorize words like “criminal” as belonging to either the left or right side of the screen. The categorization process must go very quickly in order to measure the unconscious mind and not our conscious efforts to deliberately act against our prejudices.

People quickly categorize negative words like “criminal” (or “harm” or “depraved”) as belonging on the left hand side. Positive words like “smart” are quickly assigned to the right.

But then the test switches so that “black person” is paired with “good,” while “white person” is paired with “bad.”

     Black Person                                                      White Person

            or                                criminal                                or

         Good                                                                            Bad

Suddenly, most people take more time to correctly place “criminal” on the right side of the screen. They also make more mistakes, assigning negative words like “violence” to the left.

When the test is done you will be placed into one of the following categories:

     Strong preference for whites                       Strong preference for blacks

     Moderate preference for whites                Moderate preference for blacks

     Slight preference for whites                       Slight preference for blacks

                                                            No preference

80% of people show pro-white associations – and that includes about half of the black test-takers, too. Yet few of us think we are racist.

People take the test over and over again, trying to change their score, but they usually end up in the same place every time.

If you show a preference for whites, are you a bad person? With 80% of the population, and about half of blacks, registering that preference, what it really tells you is that you live in a racist society filled with messages that whites are better.

Our minds unconsciously notice that presidents of the U.S. and large companies are usually white, that supermodels are usually white, and that doctors are usually white. So we unconsciously bring positive connotations to that color. Our minds also unconsciously notice that the poor and the disparaged are often black, creating negative associations.

Any hope for change?

Yes.

Some people end up categorized as “no preference” for either race. Others move around from, say, “moderate preference for whites” to “moderate preference for blacks,” suggesting they lack (much) bias. (I’m one of those who move around. Truth be told, I most often end up at “slight preference for whites,” suggesting some unconscious lasting residue of cultural prejudice. I still have work to do!)

People with little or no bias have generally made more conscious efforts to see the world in unbiased ways. They become aware of their unconscious prejudices and critique them.

Focusing on the accomplishments of great Black leaders, thinkers, poets, and scientists like Nelson Mandela, Sojourner Truth, Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Alice Walker, George Washington Carver, and many more, can help people appreciate the talents and intellect of our brothers and sisters of African descent.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych, women's psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State University. And I have blogged for Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos.

Posted on February 7, 2011, in psychology, race/ethnicity and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. I love those tests. I did a bunch of them a few months ago.

    I was hoping I would be neutral but thought that was just wishful thinking. I was actually surprised I had slight preferences for blacks and gays and thought white people were more violent. (I’m straight white female.)

    My boyfriend and friend both came out with white and straight preferences.

    can help people appreciate the talents and intellect of our brothers and sisters of African descent.
    Not all black people originated from Africa. ;)

    • Thanks, Ruth.

      And thanks for the clarification. Maybe you can fill me in on geography.

      • I hope I didn’t come off brusque. That was not my intention. A test may show I’m less prone to basis, but doesn’t mean I have better tact.

        Regarding dark/black skin colours, there are the Aboriginal’s of Australia, South American tribes and Caribbean peoples. I could of misread you regarding your black examples; just wanted to point out there’s more than just Africa regarding “black” people.

  2. I think these tests are quite interesting because they simply provide me a kind of more objective way to determine whether I am racist or not. Actually I took the test which determines whether I have preference on whites/blacks. Before I took this test, I have always believed that I was not racist, or just slightly racist at most. But after I completed the test, the result told me that I was racist on a moderate level, which actually surprised me a bit!
    Anyway, I think the test may not be completely accurate because the first two sets of matching may lead people (including myself) to make more mistake in the final set of matching. Like I got used to match the positive/negative to one same side, but in the final set I need to do kind a “crossing match” which may cause more mistakes.

    • I have the same concern about how the test follows our likely biases in the way you describe. In fact, there is a “contact” section on the web page, and I contacted Harvard stating the same thoughts you share, here. I’m curious to see if they might change the ordering, pairing black or good / white or bad first, to see if that changes things at all. My guess is you will still find a general prefernece for whites in the culture, but that the bias could be less strong if the test were re-ordered.

      • As I mentioned, I’d contacted Harvard with my concerns. Here is my question and their response:

        Was wondering if it would make a difference to order test-taking as follows:

        White (e) black (i)
        Negative (e) positive (i)
        White/negative (e) black/positive (i)
        White/positive (e) black/negative (i)

        To see if that ordering changes things.

        As it is the test itself gets the test-taker so used to putting white and positive on one side that the test might contain a bias. (Though I don’t doubt that plenty of bias is also in our heads as a result of societal messages we receive.)

        Here is the response I received.

        You are 100% correct. The order in which we have people complete the task has a small but significant effect on the results, such that your score is probably very slightly skewed in the direction of the first pairing. In order to address this concern (at least in aggregate), we randomize this factor between subjects who come to the site, so if you take the test over, you might receive a different pairing first.

        Thanks so much for visiting our website, and for your insightful thoughts!

  3. This test is very interesting. It always amazes me how people respond to attaching certain connotations with certain races, ethnic groups, and skin colors. At the same time, I’m not completely surprised because I’ve recently been enlightened in an African American class I’m taking that this is so common of our society. American Cultural Mythology is what has constructed and shaped our minds to automatically stereotype and categorize certain racial/ethnic groups. Stereotypes, negative and false connotations are so ingrained in our heads, whether we personally believe it or not, and that is sadly what comes out of our quick responses to these kinds of tests or studies. Our unconscious has so much covered up that we can even be surprised by ourselves sometimes by our own results or answers. But we have to keep in mind that this is the Cultural Mythology that is unknowingly functioning in our minds and we have to be aware of it and try as hard as we can to avoid mistakenly carrying it out into how we think of and understand other groups or people.

  4. As much as i would like to say I don’t think I am raciest, I think you are right! The things we see, the way we are being brought up and our experiences with people of other ethnicities form a way we look at people and we tend to generalize that feeling! After studying Psychology and Sociology I did try to be more aware of how others react with people of different ethnicities and I would also make it a point to check myself everytime I talked to others as well.

    It is also interesting how young children have lesser social barriers when interacting with friends, they tend to judge lesser. Has the media and influences around us made us more in tuned to be raciest than not?

    If there’s a way to turn us into raciest, I am with you that it is possible to undo racism!

  5. GP, the Holocaust has been over since 1945, yet many if not most Jews still hate the Germans. But here’s a ? which offends people & unsure if you’re Jewess but here it goes. If a Jewish homicide detective were investigating the murder of a German tourist (many German tourists are crime victims) do you think that the Jewish homicide detective will solve the case ? This is asked because if he or she lost relatives during the Holocaust can a Jewish homicide detective neutrally solve the murder or will he or she go with the thinking that because the German’s grandfather killed their relatives during the Holocaust, that they’re n/i because the victim’s German?

    • Well, I’m of German decent (Platts is an anglicized version of Platz) yet I’ve dated quite a few Jews. They seemed to like me fine despite my German heritage.

    • SnowIsFun: Very thoughtful response there. I’m a 55 year old Jew and i find that attitudes are changing. In retrospect this is not at all surprising. When I was growing up in the 60′s the Holocaust was very real in all the adults around me, and we had trepidation buying German products. In my community now the Holocaust is more abstract, much less personal–like the civil war. I don’t know anyone now who has any concern buying German, visiting Germany, being close friends with Germans. SO-as a group I would just say that there is a slightly higher liklihood that a particular Jew has bad personal associations with Germans, but personal history trumps the collective racism now. In fact I notice that I assume that any German or Russian I meet is probably Jewish (even though I’m wrong most of the time)–my upbringing with Jewish Germans and Russians has built that assumption into my brain.

  6. GP, you’re not from Germany. When written that many if not most Jews hate Germans because of the Holocaust, it meant Germans from Germany, not German Americans who’ve been here a long time. The Jewish men you dated may not have cared about your German heritage but they may hate Germans from Germany.

  7. Deirdre da Silva

    Going into the test I didn’t think I was racist, and although my results showed that I am, I’m still not convinced. I think that the way in which they ordered the categories played a big role in the way I, and I’m sure many other people, grouped the answers. I noticed that they always began the test with black (or any other group which generally holds a negative stereotype) being associated with bad, and white (or the group usually carrying a positive stereotype) being associated with good. We had to answer the questions very quickly and so I tended to answer based on good goes to the left, bad goes to the right, and not good goes to white and bad goes to black. I feel that if they had ordered the words differently from the beginning, my answers would have been different.

    • You, I and someone else all noted the bias in the test. I contacted Harvard about it and they responded. See my comment above. (They said the bias was there, and created small effects. That they change the test around, from time to time, though.)

      The fact that you and I, about half of blacks and most everyone else end up as “racists” means that we’ve grown up in a racist environment and have unconciously internalized the cultural view. Are we bad people? Only to the extent that we don’t try to work to overcome whatever racism is left in us as we become aware of it. (You can’t really blame people for the unconcious workings of the mind. But once we are aware, we must work to create change within the culture and ourselves.)

  8. I was rather shocked when I did the practice in Malcom Gladwell’s book to learn that I am a racist. And this explains a lot regarding my behavior in daily life. It just explains my recent behavior of refraining from picking up the movies, Precious and The Help from the shelves in the library ( instead going for The Blind Side) even though I know that they are very good movies and they won various academy awards, etc.
    Obviously, this is warning that I have a lot of work to do as well.

  9. I think everyone is a little racist. I don’t see it wrong but just realistic as this is not a utopian world and everyone has their flaws. Everyone can be a jerk, asshole, bitch, mean, selfish, etc. The problem is the racists who see and treat others bad and talk bad, and hatred toward a race. I think many people though, don’t care about color of people and get along with various races, but will have some preferences to their own race or some negative views on other races. Not the whole race but the groups of people of that race. Like you have the good hard working, some class people that are white, but then there are the druggy, white trash people with wife beaters acting like scumbags, that you probably see see on COPS. And like wise, classy, hard working black people and then the thug, ghetto part of that race, which some I know separate the two, unfortunately. and another workd used or implied about the latter.

    • Racism correlates very strongly with living in a racist culture or subculture. People internalize it. Same with sexism. So women can learn to be sexist against themselves and people of color and learn to be racist against themselves. People can overcome it if they become aware of it and work at it. But it takes work if you grew up in a racist or sexist culture.

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