Countering Implicit Bias

On November 6, 2013 Applied Research Center (ARC) was rebranded as Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. The content on this page was published on the ARC website prior to the rebrand.


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Rinku's Message 

The verdict in George Zimmerman's trial caused the kind of existential crisis that my optimistic nature is usually able to fend off. In these weeks I have come to understand just how much light exists between the basic assumptions of the racial justice movement and those of most white Americans. A Pew study conducted last week revealed a huge gap between black and white attitudes on the verdict, with only 30% of whites compared to 84% of blacks dissatisfied with the ruling. To figure that out, we need to delve into the complicated relationship between explicit racism, unconscious bias, policymaking and culture.

At the Applied Research Center, we focus on impact rather than intention, given that most people aren’t aware enough of their own subconscious for their bias to qualify as intentional. We talk about racism this way because it lowers the heat level and makes it possible to have an actual conversation, sometimes even to really solve a problem. Lowering the heat level is about getting past white defensiveness, and it does enable people to engage constructively. I worry sometimes that this framework lets conscious racists off the hook, but if it disrupts the coherence of biased stories, or if it causes people to wonder whether their good intentions actually translate into fairness, then it seems like a keeper.

At last year’s Facing Race conference, I gave a talk in which I said I was after changing the course of human evolution itself. If the human brain has evolved to enable other good things -- cooperation, innovation, analysis – then I don’t see why it can’t evolve past its biases too. The Zimmerman verdict showed me just how grandiose I was being in that moment, and yet, I am reluctant to give up that vision. It may take millions of years to get there, but we can do our part by addressing the way racism really works for as long as we are on this earth.

For more from Rinku Sen on implicit bias, read Movement Notes tomorrow.

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Network: Can Institutions Be Biased?

The murder of Trayvon Martin and acquittal of George Zimmerman attracted new attention to unconscious racial bias, a concept we teach about in ARC’s racial justice trainings.

Despite its well-documented prevalence, the unintended bias that operates without our conscious awareness -- implicit racial bias -- is hardly understood by the public, seldom acknowledged by our courts, and rarely counteracted with effective strategies.

Zimmerman, faced with the visual cues of an unknown black male dressed in a hoodie walking in his neighborhood in the early evening, revealed his biased assumptions when he reported to the 911 dispatcher a “real suspicious guy” who looked like he was up to no good or as if he was on drugs.

When examining implicit bias, however, we must look beyond the bias and behavior of the individual. We must also scrutinize the bias of institutions and their key decision-makers. For example, why did the Sanford police believe Zimmerman’s self defense claim and release him without charges? Why did mainstream media editors decide the incident was not newsworthy until there was a public outcry? And why did Judge Nelson disallow attempts to make race a salient consideration in the trial?

When institutions and their power-holders have no mechanisms to check their bias, the default mode is to operate with racial bias. We need to focus far more attention on implicit institutional bias. And we must commit to employ more tools, strategies and protocols to systematically counteract institutional bias and to consciously create equity.

Colorlines Spotlight

We cover a lot of ground at Colorlines, but for any daily news outlet there are stories that rise above the churn and become definitive. The murder of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal are such events. Covering them well has demanded going beyond a recitation of the facts. Rather, it demands wrestling with truths, and exploring the contexts that shape those truths. That’s where we’ve dug in deep.

One of our foundational articles has been Aura Bogado’s explanation of what behavioral science researchers call “implicit bias.” Aura introduced many news consumers to some of the researchers behind the idea, and explained how the modern era’s race silence actually helps intensify racism. Meanwhile, Aura and our new editorial fellow for community engagement, Stacia L. Brown, hosted a live chat with a panel of youth organizers and our Twitter community, exploring implicit bias and other thorny issues the verdict has raised. If you missed it live, you can still watch it on

You’ll notice lots more dialogue of this sort over the next 12 months at Colorlines. Stacia’s mission is to increase the sense of community between our readers, our reporters and the newsmakers we cover. So join her on FacebookTwitter, in the comments or just give her a shout at

From Implicit Bias to Inclusive Research

Before the 2012 Facing Race conference, ARC Research and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), a project of the Tides Center, convened two dozen Asian American & Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AA & NHPI) advocates, researchers, scholars and allies. The preconference explored the challenges of producing data and research that accurately reflects the diversity of the AA & NHPI communities.

Much of the research accessible to the mainstream media reflects unconscious biases about AA & NHPI communities as a hard-working, high-achieving “model minority” that is then used to explicitly or implicitly condemn African Americans and Latinos. Such stereotypes render the true experiences of systemic racism for millions of AA & NHPI individuals virtually invisible in the public discourse. Participants in the preconference agreed to create a “principles and best practices” guide to responsibly conducting research within the AA & NHPI communities as a concrete next step.

The result, Best Practices – Researching Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, will be released tomorrow on NCAPA’s website. The guide provides a basic primer on the rich ethnic, linguistic, cultural and socioeconomic diversity within these communities to combat the typical bias of researchers to lump all AA & NHPI populations together. Reporting on the so-called “average Asian American” without disaggregating the data hides the wide range of conditions and experiences across groups of national origin.

The guide also identifies research needs, provides tips for inclusive methodologies that can help researchers avoid perpetuating unconscious biases, and includes guidelines for engaging in community-based participatory research (CBPR). While researchers are the primary audience for this Best Practices guide, ARC Research and NCAPA also hope the guide is accessible for community organizations who want to engage researchers in dialogue about the challenges and experiences faced by these communities.