NCRCR Interview Series: Implicit Bias
Welcome to the National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights Interview Series, a regular examination of the court cases that shape and affect our lives.
Earlier during this year the Supreme Court ruled in a case called Ricci v. DeStefano that the City of New Haven, Connecticut discriminated against a group of white firefighters when it refused to certify the results of an exam to determine promotions even though it had been found that the exam disproportionately screened out minority candidates. The city of New Haven argued that they were concerned that the test may not have been fair and if allowed to stand might discriminate against African American and Latino firefighters. How is it that this kind of discrimination can persist in a society that seeks to treat all people equally and that the Supreme Court even rejects efforts to address it. The concept of "Implicit Bias" explains why discrimination persists. In 1995, Dr. Anthony Greenwald and Dr. M.R. Benaji, argued that much of our social behavior is driven by learned stereotypes that operate automatically and therefore unconsciously when we interact with other people. To better understand the significance of Implicit Bias for our ability to defend our civil rights and the courts, we spoke with Rachel Godsil, professor at Seton Hall School of Law and founding board member of the American Values Institute.
PERRY: What is Implicit Bias?
GODSIL: Implicit bias refers to the mental prophecies that operate on our brains automatically and without us thinking about them that lead us to unconsciously often associate negative stereotypes with members of different racial and ethic groups and sometimes gender and people of different ages as well. So it is essentially a way of understanding how our brain works where we may not consciously endorse certain attitudes and stereotypes towards groups but our minds automatically makes these associations with those groups.
PERRY: What methods are you using to research how implicit bias works?
GODSIL: The methods that are being used are created by social psychologists around the country and the most well known is essentially a response time measure; it assesses how long it takes people to associate positive words with different racial groups as opposed to negative words. For example if it takes you longer to associate words like good, thoughtful and hardworking with a member of traditional "out-group" that suggests that even without knowing it you might possess implicit bias towards that group. The work that the American Values Institute does is, we link together people on the ground - activists, lawyers and advocates on the ground with the people who are doing the rigorous social scientific work and we find ways to try and find interventions into implicit bias so that pole can act according to their consciously held values are the values that are broadly shared across the country about equality, fairness and the notion that we should not understand people to more likely fall into negative stereotypes simply because of their membership in a different racial group.
PERRY: What impact could this research have on the courts?
GODSIL: I think the work has important impact on the courts if the courts begin to take into account the findings on "mind science" the findings that even people with positive values and conscious fair values may in fact be acting upon their implicit attitudes in things like making hiring decisions, in constructing measures of success and married within employment settings, there has been a wealth of studies on jury verdicts and how affected juries are by implicit biases, so if the courts begin to incorporate the way the mind really works instead of the way we wish the mind would work, legal changes can essentially be made to account for those differences. For example in the hiring context, if the legal question in Title VII Case is whether an employer intentionally chose not to hire a member of a certain racial group and we measure intent by what was in that person's conscious mind that may well fail to measure what actually led the person to make the hiring decision they did. For example there have been studies showing that the identical resume with a name that sounds traditionally white for instance Emily Smith will receive a call back but a name that sounds traditionally African American for instance Lakicia Smith will not. We are not assuming that the person who looked at that resume is racist in the classic sense but what is likely in the case is that the person has certain negative associations that trigger when they saw the name that led them to pass by the identical resume that they would have chosen for a call back if it had said Emily instead of Lakicia. There is a wealth of areas in which the courts understanding the way the mind works could lead to our juries prudence, again, adhering top its own ideals and norms and what it is hoping to incentivize in people's behavior.
PERRY: Great! Thank you very much for speaking with us today.
GODSIL: My pleasure, thank you so much!
PERRY: That was Rachel Godsil, professor at Seton Hall School of Law and founding board member of the American Values Institute.
The National Campaign to Restore Civil Rights is a collection of more than 100 civil rights organizations and numerous individuals who came together to ensure that the courts protect and preserve justice, fairness and opportunity for everyone. The campaign focuses on public education and outreach finding ways to get the message out about the impact of court rulings on our communities, our opportunities and our rights.