Isaac Butler from a recent comments thread drops some science on perceptions of race:

Basically, our brains have evolved to do an enormous amount of automatic processing of and reacting to simuli and life experience. They do this through a few different processes, but they mainly involve creating cateogories, associations between these categories and what get are called “schema,” which are essentially stories our brain tells itself without our conscious knowledge.

The associations and stories we have often involve categories of people, which we call stereotyping (it doesn’t have a negative connotation in psych circles). A lot of stereotyping is harmless. How do you know without having to think about it that a large, bald, fat human that’s crying probably doesn’t need a diaper change but a tiny, bald, fat human does? How do you know that a black rectangle that rings is a phone and not a wallet? it’s all these kinds of processes.

Anyway, not all of our associations are harmless or value neutral, often they involve preferences (when they’re positive) or biases (when they’re negative) about people in certain groups. Simply put, we have a story about them in our heads that we do not realize we have.

This whole phenomenon, one where our decision making and POV is affected by prejudices ovcuring at the unconscious level, is called Implicit BIas. It’s not limited to race and it’s not limited to the United States. It is, in fact, part of the human condition. It also isn’t a moral failing. The majority of white people in this country consciously hold egalitarian values. This is why explicit measures of bias and prejudice basically have no predicative value as to what people will actually do.

Implicit measures, on the other hand, do tend to predict behavior in experimental settings. The most famous of these is the IAT, which you can actually take yourself at The IAT tests categorical associations through reaction times.

Anyway, this is long-winded, but there’s decades now of scientific evidence as to the validity of implicit bias, its predicative power, etc. and so forth. There is also considerable evidence that believing oneself to be objective actually causes people to act with more rather than less bias. There is some evidence that being aware of implicit bias, coupled with context-specific interventions, can help safeguard our decision making processes from implicit bias’s effects.

This is why color-blindness is such a pernitious idea. It’s actually the opposite of what we need. It’s the delusion that we’re objective. And what the Right does is talk about color-blindness through one side of its mouth while stoking White racial anxiety with the other. So they take race off the table as a valid topic for discussion (“playing the race card”) while also talking about it in ways guaranteed to panic Whites. For an example of this, look at Fox’s coverage of the Zimmerman verdict.


George Zimmerman

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