Unconscious Implicit Bias

To the best of my knowledge, my ancestry is predominantly British and Polish.  I’m sure a DNA a test might reveal more diversity than that.  But, I’m not aware of what that might be.

I’ve been tempted to take a DNA test to find out.  I’d love to discover that my ancestry includes some exotic cultural heritage!  I’d love to be able to mark something other than “white” when I am asked about my race.  Frankly, I’ve never felt like I have any defining ethnic heritage – beyond being moderately “southern” – and I’ve envied those who do.  There is something very appealing to me about wearing distinctively ethnic clothing, having distinctively ethnic traditions, and maintaining connections to family and friends in your country of origin.

I’m fascinated by other cultures…

  • My favorite musician is Bob Marley (Jamaican and Rastafarian)
  • I have a great love for Guatemalan and the Mayan culture. I’m still trying to learn to speak Spanish and a Mayan dialect called Kiche.  (Soy Guatemalteco!  Yo deseo…)
  • One of my hobbies is bonsai, which is primarily a Japanese art.  And, I love martial arts.
  • I love foods from everywhere – from Indian to Mexican, and loads in-between.
  • I’ve traveled around the world, and have been truly fascinated by the diversity of cultures I have experienced, and am now influenced by.

As of July, 2017, I’m the pastor of the most ethnically and culturally diverse church I’ve ever served!  And, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity.  I’m learning and growing.  And, I’m hopeful that we will become even more diverse in the years to come.

So, while I am well aware of my “whiteness,” I’ve honestly believed that I’m open and respectful to people of diverse backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities.

This morning I was reading a chapter called “Shalom and Race,” in the book,  The Very Good Gospel, by Lisa Sharon Harper.  She references a study, by Harvard University, that is called the Implicit Association Test, which was designed to indicate “racial” bias as either for “whiteness” or “blackness.”  Harper reports that 75% of the people who’ve taken the test – which includes a diversity of participants – tested positive for an implicit bias toward whiteness.

I had to take the test, of course, to prove that I do NOT have that bias.  I took the test as carefully as I could, as honestly as I could, as thoughtfully as I could.  Even as I was concluding the test, I was sure that it would indicate NO bias for “whiteness.”  My test result – “a strong bias for whiteness over blackness.”

I feel sick.

The test is designed to force you to quickly associate categories of goodness and badness with whiteness and blackness.  Your result is determined by how quickly you can make those associations.  Apparently, I moved faster when I was associating goodness with whiteness and badness with blackness, than when I did the opposite.

Harper describes this as “an unconscious implicit ethnic bias.”  Unconscious.  That means I can consciously, rationally know that there is no such thing as generalized “white goodness” and “black badness.”  But, my unconscious biases are a different story.

So, I obviously have work to do.  What I know and desire consciously, may be undermined by unconscious biases that I am blind to.  And, obviously I am not the only one.

If the eternal Kingdom of God is truly a place for every tribe, tongue and nation; if Christ has really torn down the walls that divide us; if there really is no longer male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile; if we worship a Jewish savior; then we have some real work to do on overcoming our biases, this side of eternity.  I wonder if “putting on the mind of Christ” and “not being conformed to the patterns of this world, but transformed by the renewing of our thoughts” has anything to do with this?

If you want to find out about your “unconscious implicit racial biases,” check out the test at Implicit Association Test.  Choose the “take a test” tab, and choose the “Race IAT.”



2 thoughts on “Unconscious Implicit Bias

  1. Oh Pastor, what a courageous article. Without taking that test, I am pretty that I would have tested as having a bias towards blackness. It is natural and in no way prevents me from loving people of all hues. Blessings.


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