We Must First Admit Our Race Bias

By Thomas, Wendi | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), November 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

We Must First Admit Our Race Bias


Thomas, Wendi, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


Peter Gathje suspected as much, but an online test confirmed it: He prefers white people over black folks.

Gathje, who is white, isn't alone.

More than half of Americans harbor anti-black prejudices, according to a recent Associated Press poll.

Racial biases steer our fingers at the ballot box. It's in the ire when food stamps are used to buy soda, but not when the wealthy exploit loopholes in the tax code.

It's behind the ironclad rule that inner-city schools are violent and all the exceptions made when white teens shoot up their schools.

If, on matters of race, America is the cowardly lion, the AP's survey points to the other side of the Wizard's curtain.

To get at the biases few admit they have, researchers used a test similar to the Project Implicit test Gathje and I took online last week.

The test pairs photos of white and black people with positive and negative words. The longer it takes you to link good with black faces and bad with white ones, the more biased you likely are.

Gathje and 16 percent of test-takers have a slight bias for white people. I was among the 27 percent with a strong bias for white people. (I'm just as surprised as you are.)

I have plenty of company; half of blacks tested also prefer white people.

Having a bias, researchers caution, doesn't make you racist.

But the test's results may be unsettling, especially if you drank the Kool-Aid that President Barack Obama's inaugura

tion put Ebony and Ivory on repeat.

Gathje, who grew up in a working-class family in Rochester, Minn., was introduced to isms when high school guidance counselors steered him to vocational schools.

When I saw that in my own life, I got angry about it, he said.

Being on the receiving end of biases made it easier for him to face his own.

Of the half dozen people I asked to take the test, only Gathje agreed.

We don't like to be confronted with our biases, because if we are confronted and we have any sort of conscience, we have to do something about it.

Most Republican politicians don't need a test to prove their biases; their racially coded language is proof enough, Gathje said.

You can hear the GOP's dog whistles when Newt Gingrich called Obama the food stamp president, when George H.W. Bush made Willie Horton the face of crime, when Ronald Reagan demonized poverty using the image of a welfare queen.

He wasn't talking about white women in Appalachia, Gathje said, he was talking about a black woman in Chicago. …

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