Counterpoint to the Implicit Association TestIn an earlier post, I discussed the Implicit Association Test (IAT), developed by Mahzarin Banaji, a professor of ethics in the psychology department at Harvard, and Anthony Greenwald, a psychology professor at the University of Washington. The test is used to assess the types and degree of unconscious bias a person may have. The most frequently used version of the test assesses unconscious bias against blacks.
(Stanford Law School)
I'm now reading The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse, by Richard Thompson Ford, a professor at Stanford Law School. For an alternate view of the IAT, I turn the floor over to Prof. Ford:
It’s also worth noting that the IAT presents race in an extremely stylized way. The test flashes images of faces deliberately cropped so as to exclude hairlines, chins, and cheekbones. The rules instruct the subject to look at the faces for only an instant before pressing the appropriate key. It’s rare that we encounter actual people in such circumstances: divorced from social context; bereft of the telling nuances of grooming, attire, and demeanor that guide us in social encounters. … Of course, the test’s authors would insist that this is the point: the faces are cropped so as to isolate race as the sole variable. It’s the point, but it’s also the problem. Real people aren’t walking avatars of their racial identity. Real people have a lot of other relevant characteristics as well, so associative bias may often be outweighed by other individual characteristics.You can watch an hourlong video of Prof. Ford talking about his book here.
And on a personal level, there’s something invasive and uncharitable about the IAT, which evaluates us based on our most primal and unguarded impulses rather than on those improved and refined by conscious effort. The truest self is not necessarily the unguarded self. Just as an author deserves to be judged on his carefully edited final manuscript and not on a surreptitiously obtained first draft, so too perhaps critics should wait for the finished product outward behavior rather than seek access to the unedited, unconscious mind. As Banaji and Greenwald are careful to point out, people can overcome implicit biases through deliberate effort. [The Race Card, pp. 192-193]