Charles M. Blow in The New York Times:
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll released last month, twice as many blacks as whites thought racism was a big problem in this country, while twice as many whites as blacks thought that blacks had achieved racial equality. Furthermore, according to a 2003 Gallup poll, two in five of blacks said that they felt discriminated against at least once a month, and one in five felt discriminated against every day. But, a CNN poll from last January found that 72 percent of whites thought that blacks overestimated the amount of discrimination against them, while 82 percent of blacks thought that whites underestimated the amount of discrimination against blacks.
What explains this wide discrepancy? One factor could be that most whites harbor a hidden racial bias that many are unaware of and don’t consciously agree with.
Project Implicit, a virtual laboratory maintained by Harvard, the University of Washington and the University of Virginia, has administered hundreds of thousands of online tests designed to detect hidden racial biases. In tests taken from 2000 to 2006, they found that three-quarters of whites have an implicit pro-white/anti-black bias. (Blacks showed racial biases, too, but unlike whites, they split about evenly between pro-black and pro-white. And, blacks were the most likely of all races to exhibit no bias at all.) In addition, a 2006 study by Harvard researchers published in the journal Psychological Science used these tests to show how this implicit bias is present in white children as young as 6 years old, and how it stays constant into adulthood.
(You can take the test yourself.)
So why do so many people have this anti-black bias?
I called Brian Nosek, an associate professor in psychology at the University of Virginia and the director of Project Implicit, to find out. According to him, our brains automatically make associations based on our experiences and the information we receive, whether we consciously agree with those associations or not. He said that many egalitarian test-takers were shown to have an implicit anti-black bias, much to their chagrin. Professor Nosek took the test himself, and even he showed a pro-white/anti-black bias. Basically, our brains have a mind of their own.
This bias can seep into our everyday lives in insidious ways.