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No Offense, But Almost All Of You Are Racist

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    We used to sing that we had “the whole world in our hands.” Turns out, we have the whole world in our brains. And not only the good stuff. We’re less the masters of our own destinies than we think. (Thanks to Francis Anderson for the animation.)

    Transcript

    No Offense, But Almost All Of You Are Racist

    Many of us well-intentioned people assume that we don’t discriminate against others based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, etc.

    And as far as conscious, intentional discrimination, that’s likely true.

    But consider this: About three quarters of us more easily associate positive characteristics with white faces than black faces, more easily associate men with career and women with family, and fully 80% of us show a clear preference for young people over older people.

    How do I know? Because for decades we’ve had validated assessments that enable us to measure so-called unconscious bias. That’s right, we can measure preferences of which we are not even aware!

     The human brain is a marvel—it processes literally millions of bits of information every second. The world’s fastest super computers are orders of magnitude slower.

    Most of that processing is done unconsciously, out of our awareness.

    Every time we interact with someone, however, the brain’s associative machinery makes automatic, instantaneous inferences about them based upon their race, their age, the setting in which we’re interacting, the way they’re dressed, and on and on.

    As a very simple example, we are more likely to assume that the woman wearing scrubs in the hospital is a nurse than a doctor because of our culture’s strong association between “doctor” and “male.”

    We don’t consciously choose most of these associations: we absorb them from our surroundings during the course of our lives. In this way, for better or worse, our culture truly lives inside of us.

    We assume we are steering our own course, in complete command of our actions. Captains of our ships.

    But these unconscious associations are like an enormous sea upon which we travel, and their currents influence our decisions and our behavior.

    Even the most well-intentioned among us can’t escape the influence of unconscious bias.

    Next time I’ll discuss why this can be problematic for any organization, and what we can do about it.

23 responses to No Offense, But Almost All Of You Are Racist

    1. Kathleen FitzGerald says:

      Chandra,
      Glad you shared this. Hopefully more conversation will be encouraged and supported at our school.

  1. Stephen Linsky says:

    Richard: Once again – brilliant observations in every respect.
    P.S. I noted you chose the British version (‘offence’) to the American (‘offense’). As an American, I take no offence.

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Thanks, Stephen. That was an inadvertent “offense.”

      I was unclear and looked it up before I sent this out (where it said that “offence” worked). My wife and others texted me later and told me I had it wrong. Ugh.

      I guess I meant it in the British sense! With your “brilliant” comment, you are sounding quite British yourself, by the way…

  2. Bob Stains says:

    Concise, informative, accessible. Maybe most importantly, you’ve put this info. forward in a way that neither shames nor makes someone “wrong.” I will be directing many people to see this. Thanks, Richard, for this contribution to our professional and personal lives!

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Wow, thanks Bob. It means a great deal to me to hear that you found this so valuable. It’ll keep me going…

    1. Richard Cohen says:

      Yes, the IAT is a powerful tool. Everyone would benefit from taking it. And it’s free! Thanks, Lee. ;o)

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