Any time race comes up in conversation non-brown people are quick to say that race shouldn’t matter, that they don’t see color. Fair enough. But one thing I’ve learned through all the dialogues we’ve been having about race — especially here in Europe — is that some white people honestly just have no idea. They don’t mean any harm but they just are so out of the loop. If you don’t have (m)any black or brown friends and if you don’t have to deal with racism or stereotype and are removed from the daily pressures of race, of course you would say that race shouldn’t matter, that you don’t see color.
Some white folks, though, are deeply aware of their privilege, as we’ve seen recently with #CrimingWhileWhite, a difficult conversation that borders on exposing police bias and straight up bragging. Adam, a white guy I dated briefly over the summer, told me once that he was very aware of what it means to be white in this country. “I’m a white British male who went to Oxford. I can do whatever I want.”
Race isn’t just about skin color, although colorism within brown communities is definitely a real thing. I’m dark. My mother and sister are both very light skinned and have “good” hair. When my sister started dating as a teenager she told me once that mom didn’t like one of her boyfriends because he was “too dark.”
“Can’t you date someone a little lighter?,” she told my sister.
Anyone could have a racial bias against black people and not even know it. That’s the suggestion of Project Implicit, a research team interested in what they call “implicit social cognition,” or how quickly you make judgements about certain types of people when given limited information about them. They’ve devised a test called the Implicit Association Test that measures implicit biases towards black people by pairing white faces with good words and black faces with bad words. Your level of implicit bias is measured by how quickly you label each good or bad, revealing a bias you may have without even knowing it.
As Chris Mooney at the Washington Post observed, the real innovation of knowing your level of implicit bias is when you look at how unknown, split-second biases impact all kinds of social relationships, including encounters with the police. It’s the idea that you might have presuppositions about me as a black person before I even open my mouth, before you even see me, before we even interact as people.
Take the new Exodus movie, for example. Why are all the black actors playing roles like “Egyptian thief,” “assassin,” “royal servant,” or “Egyptian lower class civilian”? As Joel Baden and Candida Moss point out, “the deeper problem is one of conflating whiteness with heroism and power,” and with goodness and joy in the case of race-bias test.
As a black male there are so many things I have to do to counteract and dismantle any biases people have against me. I’m tired of being asked “where I went to school” because “I speak so well.” I’m tired of being told that “you are not like other black people I know.” I’m tired of being asked if I have a big dick. I’m tired of being followed around in stores.
Take the Project Impact race-bias test here to find out how biased you might be without even knowing. The results might surprise you.