Getting Over Racial Anxiety, with Rachel D. Godsil

November 24, 2014

As a nation, the U.S. prides itself on at least aspiring to the ideal of equality, even if it often falls short. The educational, health care, and legal systems, are plagued by institutional biases against racial minorities. The good news is that these disparities are likely not due to hateful intent, but caused by a combination of factors that include implicit bias, racial anxiety, and stereotype threat.

To make sense of this, Point of Inquiry welcomes Rachel D. Godsil, research director of the Perception Institute, who explains how the unconscious associations and attitudes that we have towards people of different racial groups can affect the way we behave and, more importantly, what we can do to relieve some of the racial anxiety that may be inadvertently causing many of us to behave in ways that are less than enlightened.

Links Mentioned in this Episode

This is point of inquiry for Monday, November 24th, 2014. 

Hello and welcome to Point of Inquiry, a production of the Center for Inquiry. I’m your host, Lindsay Beyerstein. And my guest today is Rachel Godsil, research director of the Perception Institute, a national consortium of behavioral science researchers and legal scholars who study how our perceptions of race affect every aspect of society. Rachel is the coauthor of The Science of Equality, Vol. one, addressing implicit bias, racial anxiety and stereotype threat in education and healthcare. It’s a new report about how implicit bias, racial anxiety and stereotype threat contribute to black people getting treated worse at school, at the doctor’s office and on the streets of a country where most people believe racism is wrong. 

But where a lot of people still act racist, often without realizing it. 

And do you guys do programing in addition to putting out reports and no knowledge on the Internet and that kind of stuff? I mean, do you go out and do workshops and that kind of stuff as well? 

Yes. So I’ve actually been on a barnstorming tour through food, through various states, doing trainings with judges, the Delaware and campers coming up soon in New York, New Jersey and Cleveland. 

And then we do work with health care providers, some educational institutions. We’re beginning to talk to those who are involved in against culture creation in the media. 

Fascinating. What do you guys do with the judges? 

So this is something that I’ve done in my kind of crossover role as law professor and director of the Perception Institute. What I have been doing is working with the National Association of State Court Judges, and they have a program of doing implicit bias trainings. And they invited me to be one of their implicit bias trainers. I’ve altered the training somewhat to include the concepts, racial anxiety, stereotype threat that we’re talking about in the report. And so I’ve been doing essentially three our interactive lectures with the judges that include some discussion of how to apply these insights to their particular context of the family court. Judges, for example, talk about the ways that implicit bias may be affecting their decisions. I help them think through what do the intervention point where they may be able to use these insights to alter the dynamics and prevent those racially disparate outcomes from occurring. 

How long is that Perception Institute been around? 

Perceptions Institute is actually a reach, kind of a renamed version of what that started in 2008 called the American Values Institute. And that consortium was founded in fall of 2008 while the Obama campaign was at a low ebb and racial anxiety appeared to be a significant potential feature in how voters might be making their decision in presidential elections. And our concern wasn’t partizan persay, but rather to bring social scientists together to think about the way that race be affecting people’s voting decision. And so it formed at that point. And we chose the name America Values Institute, because the basic idea that it’s for America value that race and ethnicity and perceptions of religion, etc. shouldn’t be undermining or sort of interfering with people’s decisions about who they’re gonna vote for, particularly in an important election like presidential election, but obviously in any election. So the main scientists were looking for ways to address what seemed to be this undercurrent of anxiety. And the implicit the idea of implicit bias seemed the most relevant, because in very few people would say very few people, I think, thought I’m not going to vote for Barack Obama because he’s black. And in fact, when some of the surrogates for the Obama campaign outright said to some sort of voters in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in other states who if you’re worried about voting for Barack Obama because of his race, you think about his campaign promises and how hopeful he’ll be to all the issues that we care about. And that was a great affront to the people to whom that was said. Understandably so, because they felt like they were being called racist. And so what the implicit bias, a lot to do is to understand how people could simultaneously feel oddly ambivalent about Barack Obama and be worried that he might be of Özlem or feel like they didn’t know him, despite all the incredible amount of exposure he got in the course of the campaign and still be very affronted and upset if someone suggested that race was the reason for their ambivalence. 

So tell me about the report. 

So the report is a result of several years of work, and because the organization in some sense was created with the idea of sharing with the public how important this concept of implicit biases and by implicit bias. I mean the automatic associations and attitudes people often have toward different identity groups. So in other words, most of us are committed to getting equality and fairness idea that racism is wrong and committed to the idea that gender ethnicity shouldn’t affect you, who receives what job, etc.. But because we live in a culture in which race and ethnicity and gender and other identity categories continue to be associated with all sorts of stereotypes, our conscious commitment to those values is not often predictive of what we actually do. What’s fascinating is it turns out that our unconscious associations and attitudes in different situated to the attitudes, how you feel about someone, what you like them, whether you don’t like them, whether you feel warm or cold, and associations are sort of the traits that you associate with them. So our associations and attitudes of different groups tend to be more predictive of how we actually behave. So how we make decisions and how we relate to people interpersonally. So implicit bias seemed critically important and that was our initial focus of all of our work. But one of the coauthors of the report, Phil Goff, does a lot of work with police departments. And one of the findings in his research was police departments trying to identify the causes for excessive use of force with the implicit bias nor explicit bias actually predicted which police officers were most likely to engage in excessive force against African-American and Latino young men. Instead, whether or not the police officer had masculinity, ambivalence, whether or not the police officer was worried that he or she generally he would be seen as racist. 

How did they measure uses a forest? They look at people’s records retrospectively. 

Yes, a little bit looked at feel data, looking at records that were recorded retrospectively. And they also did this sort of in-house training modules that they use generally. But they designed these explicitly to test how people would respond to different people on the streets with varying racial identities. So that finding, which is not in this report. He’s still continuing his study and he’s still gathering his findings. And this report is obviously focused on education, health. But that finding sort of opened our eyes to the idea that just focusing on implicit bias was not enough and that, in fact, if we focus just that implicit bias and a lot of lawyers were sort of at the point of great excitement about this, about how relevant this idea might be and suggesting all jurors should take the pulse, that association test, which is a test that you can take if you go online and look and Google product implicit and you can take an actual kind of online test that measures your implicit biases against African-Americans, against Latinos, against mobile Americans, against all sorts of groups. The lawyers are starting to get excited about the idea. You know, let’s use the implicit association test for prospective jurors or for prospective employees, prospective teachers. And what Phil’s finding made us think about is, first of all, implicit bias may not be the determinant of things that are critically important, like which police officers are apt to be engaged in excessive use of force. 

Can we take a step back and talk a little bit about the history of the idea of implicit bias where this came from within the science? 

Yes. So the idea of implicit bias in some sense, you know, we can take all the way back to Freud and the role, the unconscious, but was absolutely different about our current understandings of how the brain works from Freud’s understanding is that Freud assumed that what was in our unconscious was individual and personal. And often, you know, sort of strangely sexual and neurotic. But it turns out what’s in our unconscious are all the social categories. And what scientists call schema of how the world operates that’s actually shared among us. So we learn about what an object is, for example, or we learn about what gender is as children. And that is locked in our brain and we don’t never think about it again. 

So would we have biases that are true as well? I mean, I have a concept of apples and I associate apples with being delicious. Is that a bias as well? 

That would be an association. I don’t think we call it a bias in basically when you use the word bias in the sense mean either a positive bias, a preference or a negative bias, which we prejudice. So if we’re neutral, then again, that’s sort of a valence or for an analysis of whether something is sort of good or bad. But an association doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. And having implicit associations essentially allows it to operate in the world. But we have to have these categories and we likely are always going to have stereotypes or associations about categories of people. The question is whether or not the categories or schema are accurate. And sometimes they’re wildly inaccurate. Sometimes they’re reasonably accurate, and sometimes they’re somewhere in the middle. So we’re always going to have those because, again, our brain needs them to function. But the question is, where do they come from and what do we do with them? And it’s also. I think we’ll have a change over time. 

I was just going to ask you about that. 

Yeah. So the stereotypes that people in the beginning of the 20th century had about the Irish, for example, and I’m Irish, so I tend to use examples involving Irish quite a bit. The Irish were seen, you know, in England and some parts of United States as absolutely sort of savage and, you know, sort of uncultured. And Irish need not apply. In Boston, for example, in our present day, that idea seems kind of silly and quaint because it’s so far from our current reality. But in in its time, the stereotypes with the Irish were actually quite deeply held and very quite pervasive. So how we think about categories of people is cultural and again, can change over time. And it’s it’s interesting to see which categories have changed and which have remained much more intractable. 

I mean, the idea of race itself is a relatively novel idea, as we understand it today, right? 

Absolutely. Absolutely. In fact, it’s in some sense the idea of race as being kind of black or white. They do that. There only are a couple of races, you know, sort of black, white, Asian. That’s entirely new. And it used to be that earlier eras that each ethnic group in Europe was a different race. So race in some sense has become much more simplified and, you know, sort of more binary in our current time. But at the same time, it’s also more fluid. The one thing that’s kind of interesting about the way implicit bias is work, they tend to be much less significant just based on how someone self identifies and more significant. How much one can you be easily said to resemble the group? So someone who’s a light skinned African-American is gonna experience the world often quite differently now than some of the darker skin. Whereas that wouldn’t have been so true in the 50s. So again, that’s another way that all this has changed. The report itself had the idea of bringing together these concepts of implicit bias and why it’s important. But adding to it this idea of racial anxiety. And when we use the phrase racial anxiety, we don’t mean what social scientists call racial threats, as in the demographics are changing and whites have anxiety that they’re going to lose power. Social scientists call that racial threat. When we say racial anxiety, what we mean is something very, very different, which is the concern that people have either in anticipation of or during an interracial interaction that their race or the perceptions about them because of race are going to make that interaction awkward or difficult. And so people of color often will be concerned when they’re in interracial interactions that they’ll be subject to bias would not necessarily recognize as much as whites are often very concerned that they will be presumed to be bias or to be racist in an interracial interaction. And what’s important to understand is that anxiety often causes the interactions to go exactly as badly as people feared that they would. So if a person of color is words that could be judged by someone through a bias lens and a white person, whereas it can be perceived as bias, both will be more awkward, less eye contact, more distance cortisol goes up. Their stress, reaction and people’s bodies is heightened. They’ve cognitively they have a little bit of shut down because they’re anxious. We’re not able to behave the way we normally do. And so racial anxiety turns out to actually be really important in specifically the kinds of institutions that we focus on in the report. Schools and hospitals. Interesting. So that, you know, I guess we we are we give a lot of information in the report. That’s not entirely new about. Very, very otherwise seemingly inexplicable outcomes in health care. You know, African-American women are far more likely to die of breast cancer than white women, even when we control for insurance, even with control for poverty, even we control for college education rates. Why would that be so? Some of it may be implicit bias on the part of doctors, but but the social science suggests that some of it is also probably racial anxiety, which leads to the interaction between white doctors and African-American patients to be shorter, to not elicit as much information, and to be to elicit less trust on the part of the patient. All of which affect the ultimate success of care. So and then again, if you think about teachers and in a racially anxious teacher, as we describe in the report, is less likely to give the necessary critical feedback that students need to do well. And in fact, there’s a study that we describe in the report where teachers, middle school teachers were sent intentionally poorly written essays. And when they were given information about the race and ethnicity and gender of the supposed students, they were responding to the essay for Self MSA. The teachers who thought that their students were black or Latino gave less critical feedback than they did if his office. Student was white or Asian. It gave more feedback, critical feedback. You need to improve here. This sentence is awkwardly phrased that this idea needs. More elaboration. And that was so except for those teachers who felt like they had the support of their principals who felt supported in their institution. Those teachers gave the same level, the same kind of critical feedback to black students. 

So did they measure the racial anxiety on the part of the teachers, too? Did they find that less racially anxious teachers were more likely to give the critical feedback in that study? 

They didn’t use an instrument to measure racial anxiety. We know that there are areas where we need to do more research, and that’s definitely some research we hope to do in that study. The way the researcher and Kent Harber at Rutgers University was the lead researcher on that paper. His conclusion that the different levels of feedback were a result of anxiety about being thought of as racist. So it’s basically the same concept. His conclusion is based upon the fact that teachers who talked about their feeling of belonging within their institution and whether they would have support from their colleagues and principals, those teachers gave equal levels of critical feedback to black students as they did to white students, whereas teachers who didn’t feel like they had support within their institutions gave lower levels of critical feedback to black students. Both sets gave lower level of critical feedback to Latino students. So what that suggests is that teachers do have some implicit biases about kind of writing capacity of Latino students. And it wasn’t implicit bias that caused the teachers to give different levels of critical feedback to black students. It was worried that they would be seen as racist. And again, this is an extrapolation from the findings and more work needs to be done. But in a sense, that’s really the only explanation that makes sense. Yeah. If teachers feel like their principal, support them and backs them, respond differently to the same essay as teachers who don’t. 

Can you see this sort of creating a spiral of of lesser achievement where teachers are not giving people the feedback that they need to improve and therefore they’re not improving as much as everyone would like them to and as much as they’re capable of? 

Absolutely. And in addition to students not being given critical feedback and therefore not learning what they need to do to improve students, it turns out, are sort of genius at perceiving when they’re being given false praise. Mm hmm. Students feeling our concerns are getting false praise or that they’re not being given feedback when essentially they think they in some ways ought to be given feedback. Actually disengage from school as much or more than students who feel like teachers are biased. So, again, another reason why we think it’s so important to understand the role of racial anxiety and what we call white stereotype threat is implicit bias. And the good news is these are fixable. So teachers can be taught how to give effective, interracial, constructive criticism that will balance between triggering concern on the part of the student that the teacher is biased because there aren’t teachers who are biased and they know there are players who are bias. And the study describes an example of law firm partners who do, in fact find, you know, more typographical errors when they think a medal is being written by someone black. Maybe when someone is white and who actually perceived the memo to be less well written when they think the person is black and white. So bias, of course, continues to exist. And so it’s kind of, you know, you’re between a rock and a hard place if you’re a student of color or if you’re a person of color in the workplace. If on the one hand you’re wondering, am I getting this negative feedback because someone’s bias. On the other hand, if you don’t get a negative feedback on my not getting any critical feedback because this person has racial condescension. And so Claude Steele, who’s brilliant social psychologist, who’s done a lot of the work in identifying this idea of stereotype threat, what he has done studies on is essentially how those who want to give interracial feedback can do so to answer the concern that a person of color might have on either end. And the way that that’s done is to expressly invoke high expectation. So it’s a state very explicitly, very high expectations for you then to explain specifically why you think that person is capable of meeting those high expectations? Gift giving examples. And then give all the critical feedback that person needs to hear in order to improve. And when that kind of you know, what he calls wise feedback or wife criticism is given, students of color don’t have to worry that they’re being judged through kind of a bias lens because they’re being held to high expectations. And that feels good. They feel that they’re being respected, but they’re also being given all the critical feedback that they need to be able to improve and to avoid the negative spiral that you described. 

There’s this conventional wisdom in social justice circles that those of us, you know, are, well, people, everybody in some sense. But, you know, people are more privileged, should be constantly reflecting on it and checking their own privilege and being really aware of the fact that they might be overstepping, they might be doing something wrong. In light of this research, is that actually a productive way to go about it? Absolutely not. 

So it’s a great question. Does the idea of white privilege is complicated or the idea of class privilege? Because, of course, if you’re. Upper middle class white person. You have all sorts of privilege, and that’s absolutely true. You have the privilege of not ever being subjected to the bias on the streets of someone of color. Has you have the privilege if you’re upper middle class, of having all of the creature comforts that those of us who are upper middle class do? Know for some people, you can go through the exercise of recognizing that privilege and then move on and still be kind of authentic and not filled with crippling anxiety and guilt. When you interact with a person of color, but for a lot of people, the checks, the privilege of the white privilege idea either makes them feel resentful, particularly if they’re understood to have white privilege, but they’re lower middle class or working class where life feels pretty hard and it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of privilege going on. So that can cause to trigger a kind of resentment among someone who doesn’t, in fact, have the class privilege, particularly when they see someone having class privilege and they don’t feel like that’s being recognized as much as white privilege. But even for someone who legitimately could be said to have white privilege, recognizing your privilege alone doesn’t really do any work. So ironically, when we’re told to identify white privilege, it’s so that we recognize what we have and that allows us to look beyond ourselves. But I think often it stops with ourselves. 

And I feel the conventional wisdom also feeds into it that it’s not just that people are supposed to interrogate their own privilege intellectually and realize that they have all these unearned attributes and privileges and good things, but also to constantly be mentally referring to it and have that be a thought. That’s really foremost in your mind if you’re being a good social justice ally about constantly checking your privilege as an ongoing thing. 

Right. And I think with this social science suggests is what’s more important than checking your privilege is actually like, as I suggested, looking beyond ourselves. And this is a wonderful set of interventions that Patricia Devine from the University of Wisconsin has identified called breaking the prejudice habit that this social science would suggest should be put in place of the sort of white privilege mantra. And instead, we should be focused on breaking our prejudice habit, because that’s very outward looking. We should be thinking about how our behavior and how our treatment essentially of the people around us, how it affects them. And what do these interventions do is they essentially give a really helpful set of steps that we can take in order to reduce our biases. And what they involve are a recognizing that we often carry these stereotypic associations with people of other groups and think about how our actions might reflect those. So an example might be a white woman who inadvertently or sort of, without even realizing it, know, holds her purse tighter or sort of flinches when an African-American man walks by her to realize that we’re doing that. So to be mindful of what our behavior looks like, our behavior is affecting someone else’s effort. You know, the guy who just walked by a Forsys flinched. His day is now clouded by it is very hurtful notion that he’s presumed to be criminal or dangerous in some way. Instead of checking your privilege. Check your behavior. And then doing the work of identifying counter stereotypical images and ideas and people hopefully from the world that you live in. But it’s not necessarily a lot. It’s a lot of whites continue to live in fairly homogeneous environments. So you might need to reach beyond your immediate environment and reach to other media figures or people you’ve read about or friends of friends. It turns out that racial bias can actually be reduced just by knowing that people that are close to have close relationships, people, other races then did contact, which is amazing. 

Do you think it’s possible that the knowledge of having a black president has changed Americans in some measurable way for the better? 

In that sense, though, that’s obviously the hope. There’s not a lot of evidence to suggest that it’s done that yet. I think among this generation of youth, it certainly may, because it will have been commonplace to think of a black president from the time that they were young. But the one thing and this is where the break in the president’s habits steps are useful. The one risk that we have in just sort of assuming that we have a black president and therefore that’s going to alter their typical associations about black men is there’s always been a sense of exceptionalism. And so it’s very easy for people to accept the idea that a person can be excellent and a person of another race can be excellent. But what sometimes happens is inadvertently in people’s minds, and this is all happening, you know, sort of implicitly is someone becomes the exceptional and they’re somehow put into a different category than everybody else of their race. And so this is whereas the work of breaking the prejudice habit requires two additional steps. You identify countersuits, images, ideas, people in your mind to have those available when you actually are interacting with someone who is a person of color. But then you also learn, instead of trying to be color blind, which is what we’re sort of what we’re supposed to be. We actually have to work to notice all the individual differences within people who fit within the big category of a particular racial group. So so another challenge that whites often have these individuating among people of other racial groups, because I think we’re afraid to actually look at people and see, oh, this person has sort of chestnut brown skin and this kind of hair. 

This person has a lighter clothes can like we’re Paris even think that way in our minds because that seems like noticing race too much. But there’s nothing wrong with noticing someone’s race. That’s who they are. And they’re not embarrassed about it. 

They’re generally have a lot of pride in who they are. That’s very much part of their identity. But for whites, that feels very uncomfortable. And so it’s Paravant breaking the prejudice habit is getting over the anxiety that noticing race is what makes us a racist. And then finally engaging with a culture of empathic perspective, taking what often happens now we think of is like stepping into someone’s shoes, as you think, well, what would I do if I were in that situation? Well, gee, if I were walking down the middle of the street and a police officer told me to get onto the sidewalk, I would just get onto the sidewalk. I understand why this person in Ferguson, he’s got the sidewalk. But that’s, of course, not being empathic. That’s thinking, what would I do given my life experience and how police history to be and what it’s always been like. If instead we have to work harder to really think about what has the person’s experience been like? What would it feel like to have had those experiences, to have had police officers hassling you regularly? From the time that you were 10 years old? Like, how would that change your reaction? Officers, what might feel different in that moment? That can really kind of help overcome the sort of very polarized way that people often see the same situation. And then finally having as much interracial contact as we can find in our own circles, in our own communities. And what Patricia Devine found is people who did all four of those things. So identifying when they were responding based on stereotypes, making more accessible images of the people and ideas than people who didn’t fit stereotypes, really working to individuals within a particular racial group, and then really engage in empathic perspective, taking where you really think about what someone’s life has been like that actually reduced people’s prejudice levels. And if you’re taking implicit association test, it reduced your bias score and people express more concern and awareness of discrimination. And most excitingly, really is the people who did that work were enthusiastic about having interracial interactions instead of anxious or avoidant. And so this is why I suggested, instead of this interrogating or privilege, let’s actually look at our behavior and then think about more consciously about how it feels to be in another racial group to the point that we can engage with people in another racial group without it feeling weird and awkward, because that weird awkwardness, the racial anxiety actually is meaningful when again, in a lot of context, particularly when there’s the power differential, when you have someone who is the doctor or the nurse or the teacher stereotype threat play into all this. So stereotype threat. The general idea is the worry or concern that one is going to confirm a negative stereotype about your group. So stereotype threat was initially identified in the context of academic achievement. It’s been looked at with African-American and Latino students in taking standardized tests and clubs. Deal and Josh Aronson, who were two of the first researchers to identify it because they couldn’t understand why these incredibly brilliant students they had at Stanford weren’t performing nearly as well as they would have expected on the jury and going to grad school and sort of achieving what they thought they would achieve. And so they hypothesized that when people are taking a really difficult test, if there’s a little anxiety in the back of your mind that you might confirm a negative stereotype, that anxiety makes inaccessible all of your academic and mental capacity. And it won’t matter if you’re taking AP tests, but it will matter if you’re taking something like the G.R., you the LSD of the cat or something that’s incredibly difficult and requires, you know, every ounce of mental ability and agility that you have. And so they tested it by having one group of students take a difficult portion of the verbal GRV, and they said that could be a student. This is a verbal Jerry. This tells you you can support capable you are. And likely you are to get to grad school and to be successful if you go into grad school. And they called it the diagnostic tests and they gave another group of students the exact same tests. But they said we’re not interested in what your score is. We’re interested in how it feels to be taking the test. In order for us to measure that, you have to do your best, because otherwise how you feel when taking the test is valid. Both groups were given seats at the end or something, you know, happy at the end. And they found that the scores of African-American students in the diagnostic group were significantly lower than the scores of African-American students in the. How do you feel when you’re taking a standardized test group, the non diagnostic group? And so these were people who otherwise had identical academic records. And the significant difference in performance could be explained only by one group thinking it’s measuring their capacities and the other groups not being worried that it measures their capacities. This has now been replicated with gender and with other racial groups, including white men. Who are taking a math test when they’re just taking a math test? And white men, we’re told, before they take him out test that they’re being measured against how Asian-Americans perform in the math test. 

Can white people get stereotype threat regarding their beliefs about their own of an inability to function and do the right thing and be decent, functional people in interracial interactions? 

That’s exactly right. That is what Phil Goff has called white stereotype threat. And that’s exactly what he identified in those police officers that I describe as the beginning of our conversation. So it was the police officers who were worried that they would be perceived as racist, who ended up when they were in encounters on the street with people of other races, finding themselves using physical force more frequently than implicitly or even explicitly biased police officers. And Phil Goff, explanation for why that concern about being racist, which would seem like it would have the exact opposite effect. Right. Because these are people who are worried about seeming racist. His theory is that police officers have two sources of authority, moral and physical. If you worry that someone won’t respect your moral authority because they think you racist and if you worry that your behavior essentially might confirm the negative stereotype that you’re racist and therefore that you weren’t known world, then you don’t have that moral authority to work with and that believes you only with the physical authority. And Phil Goff has actually been able to come up with interventions that have worked for police officers and have dramatically diminished the level of excessive use of force used by people who fit this profile by coming up with a set of actions that the police officers have to take. We call it the golf protocol, which will ensure that they are acting in a way that is not racist. 

How does that work? Maybe with the teachers that are less willing to give feedback if they have stereotype threat about their ability to be just and consistent teachers. How might that affect their ability to give critical feedback? 

Again, our hypothesis is that it is likely to have the exact same effect. And it’s something that we’re hoping to engage in more research and actually use some version of the diagnostic tools that Phil Goff use of police departments with teachers. There are some school districts were actually quite enthusiastic about potentially working with social scientists to identify this, because it would be obviously enormously helpful to help teachers figure out what it is that’s potentially preventing them from being their best selves or their students and then their students from being able to be academically successful. It could be. And the way that that protocol could easily be translated into the teaching context is simply to provide the tools that Claude Steele, who identified the phenomena of stereotype threat, has found to be very successful in providing interracial feedback. So essentially, if the golf protocol, the policing context is step one, make sure you’re stopping someone for a valid reason to articulate to that person why you’re stopping them. Step three, use a respectful tone. Step for use. No more force than is absolutely necessary. And step five, make sure the rhythm the right. So, you know, those are the five steps that could easily be translate with teachers with a it is crucial for students to know that you have high expectations for them. Communicate that openly and often. Step two. It is crucial that students know why you think they are able to achieve those high expectations. So notice what the student has done or said or written that suggests that they’re capable. Step three students need to receive critical feedback so they can improve. Make sure you communicate to the students wherever you see areas where they can improve and become even more successful. So it’s finding very specific actions that teachers can take that are validated to them as ensuring that they are behaving in a nonbiased way should provide. If your other research applies here with it seems quite clear that it will should provide the teachers the confidence that they’re behaving in a way that conforms to their ideals for themselves to be not racist and they communicate to them. You don’t have to worry that your actions will be perceived as racist, because if you do these things, you’re behaving in an unbiased manner. In fact, you’re being the best kind of teacher and your students will appreciate that. And even the unusual student doesn’t like the negative feedback. That’s OK. Individual students might not. But we’re telling you and again, often you’ll need to have a team that’s diverse to validate successfully with racially and teachers. And I think that’s an ideal in any event, that will be validated to them as a way to proceed. That will protect them from the fear or the anxiety that they might be engaging in typical behavior. 

If someone’s sitting at home and listening and saying, you know, what can I do right now to get my behavior to be better? What would you tell him to do? Or their websites or their books, other things like that that people can pursue right now. 

So Perception Institute Web site, our reporters on the Web site and our report goes into as much detail the first could possibly want. But our report does actually in the executive summary, summarize the reducing prejudice practices that Patricia Devine has identified. And so if someone really is excited about these ideas, and particularly if they’re in the house, if they’re. In the health care context, as educators, I would urge them to take a look at the report because all of this research is summarized and synthesized and translated so that it can be read and used and applied by someone immediately. And even if someone is interested who isn’t an educator, health care, the whole first section of the report just focuses on these dynamics. There also are groups who are beginning to merge. They are trying to create communities of people, all of whom are trying to reduce their bias. And so there’s a fairly newly formed network called Within Our Lifetime. And what they’re trying to do is to encourage people to understand and address implicit bias. They are encouraging people to take the implicit association test. I’ve been working with them and I’m encouraging them, of course, to help people also focus on these other areas. Because the one concern that I have, which goes back to our discussion earlier about white privilege, is I do worry if people get too caught up in just thinking about whether or not they have bias, they risk flipping over into the racially anxious category. And so while we do absolutely need to understand that we are likely to have implicit bias, Suzanne, I do encourage people to take the implicit association test, which can be found at Harvard Project from Pliss, its Web site. And that has a whole host of implicit association tests that you can take, as well as, again, for people who really want to understand the research. But I do want to make sure that people recognize that this is that the bias is one component. But to make sure that our behavior doesn’t inadvertently either look like bias, because what’s somewhat remarkable is the research describing how people behave when they are implicitly biased with someone of another race. It’s actually almost identical to how people behave when they’re racially anxious. So if what our focus is, what I think our focus should be, is changing our behavior so that our interactions with people don’t essentially cause them to feel as though they’re being subjected to bias, even if they’re not then being aware of the potential for racial anxiety to come into play. Important, too. And I think people who care enough who are listening to all of this and who then jump on some of these Web sites and start thinking about this work. And if people are willing to do the work of Patricia Devine describes in breaking the prejudice habit, doing all of that means that obviously a person cares a great deal about living their values and doing the work of individuating, doing the work of seeking interracial interaction rather than being worried about how it will go. And understanding that you may have to have some humility in those moments. And there may be moments where you behave awkwardly. And that’s okay so long as you kind of keep doing the work. All of that hopefully can minimize the sense of anxiety simply by affirming that the person is doing all that they can as an individual. So I guess a final point would be, I think it’s wonderful that these interventions exist that people can undertake as individuals. Ultimately, we will not be successful in addressing the role that race plays simply by lots of individuals doing work. It’s somewhat akin to dealing with air pollution by all of us having inhalers. 

We do need to deal with a race that’s in the air more broadly. 

And that’s that’s dealing with race portrayed in the media, that’s dealing with the way that race can be used as a wedge in political discussions and in creation, public policy. 

So there is a sort of structural institutional component of all of this and changing the way our society creates differentials, like what percentage of people are in jail and a percentage of people are in poverty and that kind of effect. 

But yes, the bad but I would add one thing that’s been very illuminating, but also extraordinarily distressing is to realize that the focus that the press often has and even frankly, those in civil rights equals social justice side of things. The focus we often place on finding the disparities, tribute to people’s association of those groups with the disparities. So if we look at the media, we see people of color, you polygraph’s, Americans, what he knows portrayed is poor at far higher rates than they are, in fact, poor. So it’s true that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to be poor than whites, but there are actually more white people overall who are poor and black and less. Right. And the reason that’s important to realize is if we have these ideas of people in these racial and ethnic groups, as you know, poor and as likely to be incarcerated, then that creates the association of poor criminals. Right. So from a public policy perspective, we, of course, want to be aware of the disproportionality and trying to address them. But it turns out that just presenting that information and actually Jennifer Eberhardt, who just won the MacArthur Genius Award, did a study showing that when people are shown or are told about disproportionate imprisonment rates of African-American men, they are less likely to support changing the war on drugs and the laws relating to incarceration than if they’re not told that. So it doesn’t actually help us change policy to only focus or should focus so aggressively on the disproportionality in the media and in advocacy. Another insight from a lot of the social science of the mind. Sciences is doing advocacy work requires humanizing, challenging and complicating stereotypes, and we have to be very aware of the potential dangers of focusing on the most harmed of a particular racial identity group, not because we don’t want to do the work to actually help those who are most harmed. But if we only portray those are most harmed, everybody else is rendered invisible. And it actually even then becomes harder to help those who are most vulnerable. 

So it would be better to talk more in terms of, say, greater socioeconomic equality as a principle rather than singling out the ways in which African-Americans or other groups are economically deprived in our system. 

So I’m glad you asked the question, because we don’t agree with some on the left who say we should just quit talking about race. It’s talking about race that are causing the problems. We should just focus on class. Yes, we absolutely should have more accurate depictions of who’s poor. That will include and make much more salient. How many whites are living in poverty? How many white benefit from government programs? We absolutely should do that so that we, again, don’t fall into the trap of doing the racialization of these categories and exaggerating stereotypes. But because of implicit bias and because of these stereotypical associations, we do have to be aware that in some sense, if we just talk about the poor, if we just talk about economic equality, for a lot of people, that will trigger race because the ground has already been laid. So I think we have to simultaneously be much more accurate and forceful about noting the degree to which people from all racial and ethnic groups we all are benefiting from government programs. But at the same time, essentially not being purely colorblind in the way that we talk about that, because, again, if we do just talk about the poor, most people will think of people of color anyway. And that’s actually worse if race stays underground rather than being explicitly discussed as part of the picture, because people often learn most about people from other racial ethnic groups, through the media, through newspapers, through television culture, through Internet culture. We need to more accurately show the kind of broad array of what people’s lives are like and kind of humanize and essentially introduce a more accurate picture of different racial ethnic groups and not simply portray people when they’ve been arrested, when they’ve been shot in the street, or when they’re receiving government benefits or when they’re superstar, because those are sins to find that categories. But when we’re discussing public policy, it’s got to be a balance between keeping race as part of the conversation. So it doesn’t seem as though it’s actually just embedded to the conversation, but not leading with this personalities, because it turns out that doesn’t help. 

Rachel, it’s been a fascinating discussion. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you so much for having me. And the report is The Science of Equality, Vol. one, addressing implicit bias, racial anxiety and stereotype threat in education and healthcare. We’ll make a link to it available on our Web site. 

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The NationMs. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (, a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.