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Are You Subconsciously Racist?



How many times do you masturbate per week?


Do you prefer light skinned people over dark skinned people?


Please don’t use these as conversation starters.


These are the kinds of uncomfortable questions that are usually answered with what is called a  social-desirability bias, which is answering in a way that will be viewed favorably by others. The trouble with you getting all shy with how often you succumb to some good ol’ fashioned self loving or immediately get offended at the suggestion that you may indeed be racist, is that it interferes the authenticity of surveys created to analyze the social psychology of a demographic.


And I get it. No one wants to admit that they feel more intimidated by the black man walking your way down the sidewalk versus the white man. It’s not politically correct and more importantly, it’s an irrational fear that stems from a stereotype backed by no substantial evidence whatsoever. But how can we expect to dispel our stereotypes and prejudices if we aren’t aware or refuse to admit to them?


Enter the IAT test.


Short for Implicit association test, it is a measure in social psychology designed to detect the strength of a person’s automatic association between mental representations of objects and concepts in memory. The test requires you to use implicit memory, which is one of the two main types of long-term human memory, that is acquired and used unconsciously and can affect thoughts and behaviours such as stereotypes and social constructs.


There are several tests found on the IAT website. Each deal with prejudices and stereotypes of different categories from gender roles to the color of your skin to xenophobia.



For the sake of simplicity, Her Campus took the Skin Tone IAT described as “requires the ability to recognize light and dark-skinned faces. It often reveals an automatic preference for light-skin relative to dark-skin.” to see how a test like this was administrated. Here’s what happened:


The test was split into seven sections.



In the first section, you matched a light skinned or dark skinned person to their category as fast as you could.



In the second section, you matched words with either negative or positive connotation to either the bad or good category as fast as you could.


From there, a combination of these to tests was combined so that the bad and dark skinned people category was on one side and the good and light skinned category was on the other side.


These categories interchanged to become good/dark skinned and bad/light skinned in the final section.


Our results?


“You prefer dark skinned people slightly more than light skinned people”


“Your result is described as an “Automatic preference for Dark Skinned People over Light Skinned People” if you were faster responding when Dark Skinned People and Good are assigned to the same response key than when Light Skinned People and Good were classified with the same key. Your score is described as an “Automatic preference for Light Skinned People over Dark Skinned People” if the opposite occurred.”


Huh. Sorry white people.


In all seriousness, what should you do if this test claims you are racist?

Step one – don’t get offended.


The ability to create an automatic bias stems from the ability to distinguish friend from foe, which helped early humans survive. To quickly and automatically categorize people is a fundamental quality of the human mind. So relax it’s natural.


The next step is to make this test’s results into a constructive self-assessment. Your willingness to examine your own possible biases is an important step in understanding the roots of stereotypes and prejudice in our society.


Anything you learn can be unlearned. Conscious attitudes and beliefs can change.


Why is this important? Well, a lot of people argue that prejudice and racism are a thing of the past, but that kind of mentality is ironically a demonstration of unconscious prejudice. Because these prejudices are outside our awareness, they can indeed be denied.


Even so, there is a growing amount of evidence, according to social scientists, that hidden biases are related to discriminatory behavior in a wide range of human interactions, from hiring and promotions to choices of housing and schools to court jury deliberations and other daily tasks requiring judgments of human character.


Where do we start? In the words of Michael Jackson (whose skin tone IAT test I’d be interested to see), “take a look at yourself and make a change”.


It can be easy to reject the results of the tests as “not me” when you first encounter them. But that’s the easy path. To ask where these biases come from, what they mean, and what we can do about them is the harder task.

Recognizing that the problem is in many others — as well as in ourselves — should motivate us all to try both to understand and to act.

You can take all the IAT tests for free at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html

Chanel Samson is a Public Relations major and former Campus Correspondent for Her Campus Broward College. Born and raised in Toronto, Canada, she enjoys politely asserting her Canadian superiority in any given situation. Along with her involvement in Her Campus, she is an avid poet, which has earned her several awards and publications. She currently works for a travel publication in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
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