Unconscious Bias Training

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Discussion

1. 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.

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?)


2. Steven J. Lawrence:

"Although it’s popular in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion consulting industry, unconscious bias training is not only based on the harmful foundation of group identity essentialism and its accompanying endorsement of installing social hierarchies in communities in which this training has been introduced, it is largely regarded as unscientific in its findings and unethical in its implementation.

Journalist Jesse Singal’s comprehensive analysis of the increasingly discredited Implicit Bias Test provides a window into why the idea of unconscious bias continues to be alluring despite its decreasing legitimacy among members of the scientific community. In addition, a 2020 study showed that “White Privilege” training does not significantly increase empathy towards people of color. When this type of training is based on the unfalsifiable presumption of “unconscious bias” in individuals who belong to specific demographic groups, there is not much of an argument for the “added value” of these trainings for companies and organizations. And when we consider that this very same study showed a severe decrease of empathy for poor white people in white participants after white privilege trainings, it’s hard to deny the strong probability that these trainings are actively harmful for all people who participate in them and, by extension, those who have the misfortune of interacting with them now that they have ingested what can reasonably called a mind virus that urges its hosts to presume evil, badness, and bad intentions everywhere, in all people, and in all places.

More studies are demonstrating the lack of necessity for training programs that are based on presuppositions about the inner lives of individuals who belong to specific demographic groups, regardless of whether these presuppositions are positive or negative. On January 26, 2021, a study was published which revealed a surprising pattern around racial attitudes in white people. It was discovered, implementing the commonly used measuring rubric, the Racial Resentment Scale (RRS) that—contrary to popular conceptions— whites favor Blacks “substantially” more than their own in-group (whites) far more than was previously known. This indicates that more work needs to be done in understanding the complex dynamics of inter-group trust and collaboration and that the “trainings” that are introduced into communities and companies that wish to be seen as addressing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion might need to be integrated with a less ideological stance than the current offerings.

To put it more simply, if research is showing that white workers—especially in largely progressive environments—tend to disfavor their own in-group and “substantially” favor people from the out-groups (people of color), then in the best possible circumstances, these trainings are redundant.

If a workplace wants to be seen as on the cutting edge of being deeply inclusive, diverse and equity oriented, then the organization needs to recognize and integrate the findings of these studies. Being up to date on the research can help organizations to re-evaluate the effectiveness and legitimacy of programs that have been designed to enhance workplaces towards maximum harmony, mutual respect and productivity and away from strife, abuse and breakdown. In doing so, managers and leaders will find that workplace and educational training programs and larger cultural movements that are based on group identity essentialism—with its attendant behavioral attitudes and consequent endorsement of social hierarchies among those who have taken on those essentialist beliefs—are often not only ineffective and unnecessary, but also actively harmful.

It’s the active harm that these training programs can potentially bring to groups of people that needs to be addressed, especially in light of the proliferation of group identity theories in the media, education, government, activist communities, non profit organizations, corporations, and religious communities. With the accompanying spread of group identity essentialism in all these areas of society, the outcomes of these trainings on society as a whole are more deserving of our attention and careful study than ever before." (https://groundexperience.substack.com/p/training-in-cynicism)