We may not like to admit it, but the issue of racism is still very real in this country. Legislation has gone a long way toward reducing blatant, overt racial discrimination, but how do we deal with the more subtle, subconscious racial bias that creeps its way into society?
Racial bias continues to be a hot topic in the news. The problem looms large in law enforcement and the legal profession: studies show that black men are more likely to be stopped when driving, searched for drugs or other illegal items, and police are even more likely to shoot at an unarmed black suspect than an unarmed white suspect. In legal cases, it’s often argued that racial bias against people of color leads to their being convicted more often than white people who commit the same crimes.
In a recent challenge issued by the University of Virginia, scientists were charged with the task of finding effective ways to eliminate racial bias in five minutes or less. One group of researchers in particular reported some surprising results. The team found that educating individuals about racial discrimination and trying to get them to sympathize was completely ineffective. However, showing counter-stereotypical words, messages, and images proved to be quite effective, at least temporarily. In other words, the researchers showed subjects images and words that portray the exact opposite of the common stereotypes. So, if a minority group is commonly associated with “bad,” subjects were provided with material associating these minority groups with “good.”
Photo courtesy of: Light Brigading
Researchers theorize that this temporary effect works the same way as when we form our biases to begin with: we see a certain group of people behaving in a certain way, and over time we begin to expect all members of that group to follow the same pattern of behavior. By that logic, it seems possible that over time we could re-train our brains to get rid of our racial biases once and for all.