Unconscious Bias Training

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Kenan Malik:

“At the heart of unconscious bias training is a controversial psychological technique called “implicit-association test”, or IAT. First introduced in 1998, IAT tests for the speed at which you associate particular categories, black people and white people, for instance, with “good” and “bad” attributes (“violent” or “intelligent”). Individuals who are quicker to associate black people with violence or white people with intelligence are supposedly revealing their hidden biases.

It was not unconscious bias that made a police officer place his knee on George Floyd’s neck

There is, though, little evidence that this is true. People tested several times often receive very different scores. A meta-analysis of almost 500 studies found that training has only a “weak” effect on an individual’s implicit-bias score, and none on their behaviour.

The biggest problem, though, is that which Sivanandan and Lasch-Quinn warned about: the shift of focus from social change to personal therapy. Nobody actually says, “we don’t want to change society”. But by focusing on whiteness and personal psychology, the significance of laws and social structures is downgraded in favour of unconscious thought.

The therapeutic approach, Sivanandan presciently observed, turns racism into “a combination of mental illness, original sin and biological determinism”, an “‘essence’ that history has deposited in the white psyche”. Because “there is no escaping it” – all white people are racist either consciously or unconsciously – it’s an outlook that is both pessimistic and divisive.” (https://amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/12/enough-of-the-psychobabble-racism-is-not-something-to-fix-with-therapy?)