Check Your Bias

It was no surprise to me that the Justice Department called on Ferguson, Mo. to overhaul its criminal justice system.  It has become so tainted by racial bias that they would need to abandon their entire approach to policing, according to the New York Times story about the findings this week. 

Last Saturday night 300 local citizens gathered in Arlington Town Hall for a forum entitled Unequal Justice: Consequences of Race and Class in our Criminal Justice System.  There were about two dozen sponsoring organizations, half of which were religious communities including St. Paul. 

I was greatly impressed with the four speakers: two well-informed and thoughtful professors, a parole reform activist who has spent much of his life in prison and Arlington’s well-respected police chief, Fred Ryan.  I admired their ability to speak about very sensitive matters of race, class and fairness.

One take away for me was the mention of a test I had heard of but never taken.  A presenter mentioned the Implicit Bias test and the moderator urged us all to take it and brace ourselves for some unpleasant discoveries.  It’s not one test but 14 because our biases fall into many categories. 

From the instructions:  “The categorization task you completed is called the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The task assesses associations between concepts by measuring how quickly a person can categorize, for example, GOOD words with White faces compared to GOOD words with Black faces. The idea is that the more strongly associated the two concepts are in memory, the more quickly you will be able to categorize words into those paired categories. Your score is reported as an implicit preference for White people compared to Black people if you were faster at categorizing Good words with White faces compared to Black faces. The test often reveals associations that are different than one's conscious beliefs. For example, even people who have no conscious preference between Black and White may still have implicit associations that White is better than Black.”

I’ll tell you three of my results to encourage you to take the test.  The first two didn’t surprise me too much.  I have slight automatic preferences for European Americans compared to African Americans and moderate automatic preferences for Abled Persons compared to Disabled Persons.  Those biases are the result of a lifetime of experiences and culture worthy of reconsideration.  In the third I had a slight automatic preference for Arab Muslims compared to Other People.  I wondered if that third bias is partly the result of one powerful experience after 9-11, spending two weeks in Turkey traveling with a Muslim couple my family came to respect and adore a few years ago. 

In this season of Lent, a time of self-reflection and turning toward God, consider the test as a way to assess your attitudes and biases toward all who are created in the image of God.

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