“Uncontrolled prejudice” may explain why White police officers shoot young Black men so often, according to an article published in Mother Jones magazine.
The conclusion is based on the Implicit Association Test (IAT). It is designed to measure racial prejudice that people cannot consciously control, and 51 percent of those who have taken the test online demonstrate a “moderate to strong bias,” reported the Dec. 1, 2014, article by Chris Mooney, a book author and staff writer for The Washington Post.
The article described a study where Denver police officers and community members viewed photos of Black and White men. Some of these men in the photos held guns and others held “harmless objects” such as wallets.
The officers were asked to press a “Shoot” or “Don’t Shoot” button for each image. Police officers reacted better than community members when deciding whether a subject was armed, but they still showed bias against Black targets.
The IAT “asks you to rapidly categorize images of faces as either ‘African American’ or ‘European American,’” reported Mother Jones. “You also categorize words like ‘evil,’ ‘happy,’ ‘awful’ and ‘peace’ as either ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”
“As words and faces keep flashing by, you struggle not to make too many sorting mistakes,” Mooney reported. “You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced, but you can’t control these split-second reactions.”
“You think of yourself as a person who strives to be unprejudiced,
but you can’t control these splitsecond reactions”
Negative words paired with Black faces suggest racial bias that may come from someone’s culture that shapes the way their brain is wired, the article reported.
“Police are considerably slower to press the ‘Don’t Shoot’ button for an unarmed Black man than they are for an unarmed White man, and faster to shoot an armed Black man than an armed White man,” reported Mooney.
“You might also be more inclined to wrongly think you see a gun, when it’s actually just a tool, right after seeing a Black face,” the article reported.
Other research, according to Mooney, suggests the men who killed Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin did not have to be conscious, overt racists to pull the trigger.
“You’re an officer, you’re pumping adrenaline, you don’t have time to evaluate whether your implicit bias is driving your behavior,” Phillip Atiba Goff, president of the Center for Policing Equity, told Mooney.
There “doesn’t need to be intent, doesn’t need to be desire; there could even be desire in the opposite direction. But, biased results can still occur,” Brian Nosek, a psychologist at the University of Virginia and IAT researcher, told Mooney.
The article said people regularly categorize and sort things such as furniture, animals and concepts. These things are automatically labeled and filed in various folders in the brain to help us function. But some ways of categorizing may be erroneous which can lead to “prejudice and stereotyping.”
Categorizing the differences between Blacks and Whites produces rapid or automatic assumptions about their characteristics, the article asserted. “Common stereotypes with the category ‘African-Americans,’ for example, include ‘loud,’ ‘good dancers’ and ‘good at sports.’”
One key to correcting racial bias, according to the article, is to shift the behavior of people and make them aware of how “cultural assumptions merge with natural cognitive processes to create biases.”
The article suggested placing people in scenarios where a Black person is an ally, adding that it is possible to alter instincts to decrease prejudice by including other races as part of the same team.
“A good start may simply be making people aware of just how unconsciously biased they can be. That’s particularly critical in law enforcement, where implicit biases can lead to tragic outcomes,” Mooney wrote.
The IAT can be taken online at: