Wednesday, August 18, 2010

testing for racism

The most striking thing about anti-racism theory is there's nothing to support it. It's classic circular reasoning: All white people are racist because they grew up in a society that is racist because all white people are racist because they grew up in....

But if it's true that all white people are racist, there should be a way to test it. Fortunately, there are tests designed to bypass people's ability to consciously or subconsciously lie:

Project Implicit's race test concludes, "75-80% of self-identified Whites and Asians show an implicit preference for racial White relative to Black." I've found academic papers and news articles that suggest Project Implicit over-estimates the amount and importance of implicit preference. I haven't found any that say it under-estimates.

Color Blind or Just Plain Blind? tells of researchers who "created a situation in the laboratory in which white participants witnessed a staged emergency involving a black or white victim" and found, "When white participants believed that they were the only witness [to an accident] they helped both white and black victims very frequently (over 85 percent of the time) and equivalently. There was no evidence of blatant racism. In contrast, when they thought there were other witnesses, they helped black victims only half as often as white victims (38 percent versus 75 percent)."

Project Implicit's results imply that 20-25% of whites and Asians are not at all racist or are racist against whites. The second test suggests 38% of whites are not at all racist.

The Police Officer's Dilemma, from Stereotyping & Prejudice Research Laboratory at the University of Chicago, takes a very practical approach to implicit preference. Its shooter test is here.

My result at Project Implicit: "Your data suggest a slight automatic preference for African American compared to European American."

In my first time through the shooter test, I shot slightly more innocent dark people than pale ones. That reversed itself the second time through, when I learned to look at people's hands rather than their faces.

Criticism of Project Implicit

In a series of scathing critiques, some psychologists have argued that this computerized tool, the Implicit Association Test, or I.A.T., has methodological problems and uses arbitrary classifications of bias. If Barack Obama’s victory seemed surprising, these critics say, it’s partly because social scientists helped create the false impression that three-quarters of whites are unconsciously biased against blacks.
This has been one part of an ongoing debate that has suggested that the IAT is not all it's cracked up to be, while the originators of the test have fired back with the heavyweight review [pdf] of over 100 studies, defending their position and the IAT's credentials.

The debate is important because the IAT has become one of psychology's central tools for separating conscious and unconscious associations and has been applied to pretty much everything from racism to diagnosing psychopaths.
So Project Implicit may be right, or their critics may be right, but either way, the Critical Race Theorists and Whiteness Students are mistaken in their belief that everyone's racist.

(Thanks, serialbabbler, for pointing me to the Mind Hacks link!)

ETA: This post was inspired by by a discussion that Trinker began with me at Lakeshore - [cancer] Class privilege and chemotherapy.