Shortly after I started A Striving Parent, my friend suggested I take Harvard’s infamous Implicit Association Test (IAT) for race. Project Implicit was founded in 1998 and the site explains “the IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy)”. There are numerous IATs on a variety of topics available, but the one I completed measures a person’s automatic preference between white people and black people based on a set of questions as well as a timed activity. I put off taking the test for several months and for a plethora of reasons, but on a recent rainy Thursday, my kids miraculously took a nap at the same time and I finally seized the moment.
I hit the submit button after completing the IAT and was humbled and admittedly, a bit surprised to learn I have a strong, automatic preference for European Americans versus African Americans. The range of results for automatic associations are “‘slight’, ‘moderate’, ‘strong’, or ‘little to no preference’.” Well, yikes.
I am a white person who was raised by white parents within a white neighborhood and attended a mostly white K-12 school. In college, my choice to join a sorority led me into a largely homogenous racial and socio-economic social group. So at first glance, my IAT results should not be surprising. But throughout my education, both in secondary and in college, I took or was introduced to curriculum that challenged white supremacy and helped me identify my white privilege. I pursued graduate studies in counseling psychology and took even more course work around multi-cultural competency. I consider myself self-aware and challenge my internal biases when they reveal themselves through thoughts or actions. So in that regard, I was surprised to learn that I had a strong, automatic preference to white people vs. black people because that’s not how I think of myself or my worldview. I expected some bias to be reflected, but not the strongest result possible.
Even more revealing is the fact that I received these results when I entered the exercise knowing that implicit biases would be tested. I tried to answer the questions honestly, but on some level I must have been putting my best foot forward. The results indicate that it didn’t matter. The test is designed to cut through whatever I may have hoped to present and obtain the truth, which for me is that I have an automatic preference towards other white people as compared to black people.
We are living in the age of colorblindness. After Jim Crow laws and formal, legalized segregation were abolished, acknowledging or speaking about race became taboo and looked down upon. This silence around race creates a false assumption among white America that systemic racism has been eradicated. But psychologists and social scientists agree that believing we as individuals or a society “do not see color” or that race does not play a role in systemic issues such as poverty, quality of public education, mass incarceration and more is not only not true but it perpetuates injustice. Believing we’re colorblind allows mainstream, white America to turn a blind eye to systemic injustices that persist and even flourish despite laws being in place that supposedly protect against racial discrimination.
I’m a product of a colorblind society. Even though I’ve taken numerous academic courses on race, power and privilege; even though I’ve participated in company/school-led diversity trainings; even though I’ve served students of color; even though I’m a well-intentioned white person writing this blog, I have biases. While I knew that to be true before I took the IAT, my results reinforced this knowledge. I need to remember I have biases before I act on my impulse to call the police about or on behalf of a black or brown person. I need to remember I have biases before reporting what I believe to be suspicious behavior by a black person on a neighborhood listserve like Nextdoor. I need to remember I have biases before I choose to interpret, challenge or ignore messages in media with my children. I need to remember and reflect on my biases always, because they affect how I interact with the world around me and thus, how I raise my children. My biases affect how I treat and respond to black people. Period.
I must admit, my anxiety spiked when I saw my results. And it’s not an easy thing to write about and share with you all. While I’m sure the IAT is not a perfect test, at the very least it provides me with additional information about where my biases lie and I choose not to hide from this truth. I’m going to own it and continue to fight against it. I’m not a lost cause; I’m a dynamic, and ever-changing individual. Awareness is the first step and it’s a humbling but important reminder that I have work to do and always will.
For what it’s worth, I retook the test to see if I could somehow “improve” my score. My second result concluded I had a moderate, automatic preference to European Americans, which is technically better than the strong, automatic preference result I received after the first test. While my score may have “improved”, the change was not significant and I clearly have implicit biases. The FAQ section of the IAT website encourages individuals to take the test more than once because the majority of people will score within a similar range and it will help diminish doubts about the test’s reliability.
I would also add that I asked my sister and a friend, both white women, to take the test. Both of their results indicated that they had a slight, automatic preference to African Americans versus European Americans. While they haven’t taken the test a second time, it illustrates to me that not everyone will receive the same results and forces me to reconcile my results even more deeply.
I encourage all of you to take the test yourselves. It lasts about 10 minutes and in order to achieve accurate results you need to be in an environment where you can focus. IE: wait until your kids are asleep.
For those of you willing to share, I’d love to hear your results and reflections on the test itself below. Did your results surprise you? Do you feel your result was accurate?