In his Sunday New York Times column, Nicholas Kristof reports: “To my horror, I turn out to be a racist.”
Kristof had just taken an on-line test called “The Policeman’s Dilemma” from the University of Chicago in which the participant has to decide whether to shoot 100 black or white men who are sometimes holding a gun and sometimes holding a cell phone. He reports he shot armed black men more quickly and holstered his gun more quickly when facing unarmed whites. Whites and many blacks who take the test show similar bias, he added.
He then discusses Harvard’s “implicit attitude tests,” which reveal “a stunningly large proportion of people who honestly believe themselves to be egalitarian unconsciously associate good with white and bad with black.”
Kristof then goes on to discuss gender and race bias, and suggests gender bias might be harder to overcome.
I don’t wish to argue that point, but I do want to expand the context beyond what Kristof covered. The tests Kristof reported on reveal something about individual bias, but from whence comes individual bias? From our society and culture. Racism in America is systemic. It’s been built in since earliest colonial times. It took America’s bloodiest war and the often bloody Civil Rights Movement to weaken the structure of racism. Though no longer the mighty edifice it once was, racism still stands. We can and must change individual attitudes, but only as part of the larger goal of dismantling the system.