Most of us may hold racial biases — the starring bias of the book — but Banaji and Greenwald don’t go so far as to say America is racist, at least not as usually understood. Here is one place where the authors put forth something that feels somewhat novel (Malcolm Gladwell has discussed the IAT on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” after all): Banaji and Greenwald propose that most of today’s racial discrimination stems not from attempts to harm anyone but from selective helping. We’re each part of several groups, defined by race, gender, religion, family, alma mater and so on, and when we go out of our way to help an in-group member, we don’t see that as a bad thing. We’re being “good” people. But such selective privileging reinforces the status quo. The rich get richer, and the rest fall behind.
Of course, selective helping doesn’t explain all discrimination, such as the sidelining of the old or overweight. And we can also handicap ourselves through self-stereotyping. For instance, women who associate female with family and male with career — that’s 80 percent of female respondents — may not feel at home in graduate school or the corporate world and may abandon professional aspirations.
(Delacorte) - ‘Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People’ by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
The book’s tone is careful and professorial, though not academic — there’s the occasional joke and exclamation point. Banaji and Greenwald, professors of psychology at Harvard and the University of Washington, respectively, make a point of sticking close to the data. But while they cover a lot of ground in a short book, with their combined expertise I would have enjoyed a bit more venturing into poorly charted territory. One question: If my implicit and explicit attitudes disagree, which is my real attitude? Which reflects the real me? Is it more defining that I failed the Race IAT or that I voted for Obama? This question may have no good answer and may be ill-formed to begin with — is there a single “real” self? — but it’s one worth addressing. Here’s a stab at an answer: If an attitude affects your behavior, it is part of you. Implicit and explicit attitudes affect behavior in different circumstances, so they are both “you.”
In a partially uplifting note, Banaji and Greenwald argue that while we may not have much power to eradicate our prejudices, we are often capable of counteracting them. The first step is to turn a hidden bias into a visible one.
, a science writer living in New York City, is the author of “The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrationality Keeps Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane.”