Implicit Bias and Common Sense

But I also recognize that my life experience is different from that of most African-Americans. And that experience allows me both the luxury of seeing people without the lens of race, but also (sometimes) to fail to imagine how people of other backgrounds might interpret my words.

That's Kathleen Parker, in her column published in Saturday's Chronicle.

It sometimes amazes me when educated white people claim with straight faces that they see things without the lens of race, as though "white" signifies the lack of race. Is it possible that Parker sees people without the lens of race? No way, nohow. Well, not unless she has Williams Syndrome.

Racial bias is one of the things that makes us all alike. There's plenty of research on the topic of "implicit bias." It's normal, natural—part of our genetic programming, which drives us to favor those who are more like us (and therefore more likely carriers of our genes) over others. Does that mean we surrender to the impulse, treating other human beings worse because they are unlike us? Of course not. We take into account the perfectly natural inclination, and overrule it.

But what if we couldn't take it into account? What if we thought we saw things without the lens of race? How do you overrule an impulse that you don't have?

If you can't even admit to yourself that you feel differently toward people who are not like you, you are doomed to act on those feelings. And when you act on those feelings, maybe, like this lady, you call it "common sense."

5 responses to “Implicit Bias and Common Sense”

  1. It’s actually pretty well documented in numerous sociological studies on the White Privelege theory. The lack of realization is not always a conscious decision, nor is it always a malicious omission.

    • Of course it isn’t. Parker may believe she sees things without the lens of race. But it’s no less insidious coming from ignorance rather than malice; maybe more so.

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