Our Subconscious and Racism
The research I've done over the past month is teaching me about the strength of our subconscious mind and the fact that we are so unaware of its beliefs, opinions and affects it has on our behavior.
I just finished taking the Race Implicit Association Test (IAT) which is available online. I recommend you take it, the link can be found at the end of this article. if you haven't already. When you get to that page, click on the "Demonstration" link and on the next page, click on "Go to the Demonstration Tests" link at the bottom of the page. Then, read the Preliminary Information page, and if agreeable, click on "I wish to proceed." On the next page, select the "Race IAT" button and proceed with the test. I was disturbed by my results.
I have authored a book about diversity and facilitate diversity workshops internationally and my score shows I have a slight preference for European-Americans as compared to African-Americans. I would have hoped that I would have scored in the no preference category. What this test measures is our subconscious feelings, of which we are often unaware. For research purposes, the question is asked where you consciously place yourself in your preference of the races. Naturally, I believed I saw both races as equal, however, my subconscious tells a different story.
There are many other IATs available and I recommend you take as many as you like. Here are some titles you can choose: Gender-Science IAT, Skin-tone IAT, Disability IAT, Asian IAT, Weight IAT, Religion IAT, Age IAT, Sexuality IAT and many others. Check it out to see if your conscious beliefs are lined up with your subconscious tendencies.
As I am beginning to understand this dynamic, I find it may explain some things that have been puzzling to me. As a white female in the US, when I talk with other white people, most will denounce racism as wrong. They will state their conscious beliefs that white people and black people are equal and that they, themselves, believe in equality for all and do not participate in oppressive thoughts or behavior and might even say they would be an advocate for minorities in society by taking a public stand against prejudice. This led to my understanding that while racism is still alive and well in some areas, such as skinhead and Ku Klux Klan organizations, overall, white people are less racist than in years past.
I would be right if I were only measuring conscious beliefs. Most white people are against prejudice and oppression consciously, however, many are affected by their subconscious programming of which they are largely unaware.
Contrast this with the experience of many Black and African-American people in the US. Most Blacks I know will deny that racism is any less prevalent than it used to be. Sure there have been laws passed to protect them from overt discrimination but they know there are so many instances of covert racism that it's difficult to tell where it is coming from. Could this be because they pick up on the subconscious beliefs of most White Americans? In fact the Race IAT shows that 27% of all who take it, Blacks and Whites alike, show a strong preference for European-Americans and another 27% show a moderate preference for European-Americans, accounting for 54% of all people taking the test. The rest of the people are distributed among five other categories-slight preference for European-Americans, no preference, slight preference for African-American, moderate preference for African-American and strong preference for African-American with decreasing percentages representing each of these subsequent categories.
Stephen Young has developed a program, MicroInequities: The Power of Small(TM). Research shows that the content of our verbal messages means far less than the "subtle, often subconscious signals representing the core of the messages we send," such as eye rolling, undivided attention given to one group and not others, eye contact, arms folded, etc. MicroInequities are "cumulative, subtle messages that occur when these signals are negative or promote a negative bias. MicroInequities are not one-time events. They are cumulative, repeated behaviors that devalue, discourage, and impair performance in the workplace." They can certainly come deliberately from our conscious mind but I believe most often MicroInequities are glimpses into what our subconscious mind believes.
The first step in understanding this phenomenon is to gain information. Take the test. Understand what your subconscious believes and tells you on a daily basis. Know that you are not responsible for the programming you received. Most of the messages programmed into your subconscious, where placed there prior to your sixth birthday. You couldn't defend against them. They came from the culture in which you were raised.
However, now that you know about the disparity between your conscious intentions and your subconscious beliefs, you are responsible for taking or not taking action. If you want to take action, you need to become aware of the messages of your subconscious and deliberately place yourself in situations where you will be exposed to positive messages and associations with the group against which you have been biased. Gaining more positive information and experiences to balance out the negative is the only way to counterbalance the influence of our subconscious.
Bring your subconscious into your conscious awareness. Don't allow it to play uninterrupted in the background of your daily experience. Shine a light on it and become committed to bringing your subconscious into alignment with what your conscious mind tells you to be true.
The Race Implicit Association Test (IAT) can be found at www.implicit.harvard.edu
Andre's purpose is to reconnect people to their Dignity and Honor in Being Human.
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Andre Koen, Facilitator
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