October 11, 2013
On Seemingly Unconscious Discrimination:
What’s to be done about it?
Explicit and implicit bias: Both inhumane, both deadly
In the Sepember 1 issue of The Washington Spector, a column by Maya Wiley briefly addresses the effects of both explicit and implicit bias on the life of African Americans nowadays. Wiley is the President of the Center for Social Inclusion, headquartered in NYC. The Center for Social Inclusion is a “national policy strategy organization that works to dismantle structural racial inequity and increase well-being for all.” The following quotations capture the character of Wiley’s column and give voice to an issue of high importance for members of CARE:
“Black people are upset. The killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, and Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal, are the most recent matches on a tinderbox of legitimate black anger and alienation in America today. Black men and boys are feared, followed and frisked based solely on their appearance. Black unemployment is double that of white unemployment. Civil rights protections as fundamental as the Voting Rights Act faced renewed attack. Meanwhile, we consciously and unconsciously fan the flames of persistent implicit bias and exclusion—and then blame black people for calling the fire department. Now is the time to hear the alarm bell and douse the flames….”
“Black people are feared, judged and, yes, killed in America today for no legitimate reason. All too often, this discrimination and violence is fed by the unconscious associations we make about black people whom we don’t even know. While we frown on old-fashioned explicit bigotry, our laws have not kept pace with advances in our understanding of the neurocognitive underpinings of ‘implicit bias’. Most of us behave based on stereotypes we do not even realize we are acting on….”
“A 2012 Associated Press poll found that both conscious and unconscious negative attitudes toward blacks have increased, 51 percent and 56 percent respectively, since we elected our first black president in 2008….”
Racial Bias in the US Prison System
The September 2013 issue of Civil Liberties, the national newsletter of the ACLU, includes a short article on “Incarceration’s Cost in Black and White” pertinent to concerns with explicit and implicit bias. Referring to an ACLU report on the topic, The War on Marijuana in Black and White (www.aclu.org/marijuana), the article declares that
“the tactics used to uphold marijuana laws are astoundingly racially biassed, so not only are they unnecessarily congesting the criminal justice system with nonviolent offenders, but they are also alienating people of color and doing little to make our communities safer.”
More generally, these effects mirror
“the entire criminal justice system—it’s racist, it overcriminalizes low-level offenses, it’s ineffective as a deterrent, it’s costly and it has resulted in the US notoriously being the world’s largest jailer.”
The article adds that
“Despite hopes we have entered a ‘post-racial’ era, racial bias infects the criminal justice system at every turn, from discriminatory laws on the books to biased enforcement and unfair sentences. People of color are vastly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. An estimated 32 million Americans—one in nine people—have been subjected to racial profiling, and a shocking one in fifteen black men over age 18 is behind bars. More black people are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850.
“Our marijuana report findings underscore this racial bias: across the nation, black people are more than four times more likely to be arrested for possession than their white neighbors despite comparable drug usage. In the worst counties, this disparity grows to as much as 30 times.”
Can any of us honestly declare that we “are totally without bias” in our treatment of other peoples if we are in any way complicit in sustaining judicial, political, economic, social systems that are clearly divisive, violating the principle of equal justice? That, however, seems to be the prominent American way.