Implicit Bias Blows Up

Implicit bias blew up this week.  And by blew up, I mean it in the colloquial way that the kids did circa 2005 (according to Urban Dictionary):


Implicit bias “blew up” when during the Presidential Debate, the following exchange occurred

Thus the term jumped from relative obscurity (unless you belong to a particular socio-economic-academic-social-justicy set) to the limelight of all limelights.  Take a look at the google search history: from virtually nothing over the past five years to bam! during the debate.

Instead of dealing with the surprisingly sophisticated discussion of implicit bias we heard in the debate and see in Hillary’s policy positions on things like ending the school to prison pipeline, Trump and his supporters went… another direction.

Trump, at a rally in Wisconsin (oh, my home state, how I hope you don’t embarrass me in November) said the following:

“Then in our debate this week, she accuses the entire country — including all of law enforcement — of implicit bias, essentially suggesting that everyone, including our police, are basically racist and prejudiced. You heard that. And I’m standing there in front of this massive crowd of people … And I said to myself: ‘Did she really say that?’ She said it. It’s a bad thing she said.”  As Trump spoke, the crowd repeatedly booed Clinton and some shouted: “Lock her up! Lock her up!”
as reported in the Washington Post

In other words, Trump found the concept that everyone suffers from implicit bias to be too much; it blew his mind.  Otherwise, he would have, of course, engaged with the actual issues she is naming.

Trump supporters have gone even further.  My favorite is David French over at the National Review who warned “Hillary’s Talk of Implicit Bias Should Scare Every American.”  His opening is too good not to paste in full:

You’re guilty and you don’t know it. Sure, you think you’re a decent person who treats people fairly, judging them on the content of their character and not the color of the skin. But let’s face it: You’re deluded. Especially if you happen to be white, you’re biased and you don’t even know it. You’re unaware of your own privilege, and of the extent to which your beliefs, speech, and even mannerisms oppress people of color. It’s time to confess. It’s time to be re-educated. It’s time to rid yourself of your false consciousness. This is the message of the modern campus radical, of the diversity trainer, and, increasingly, of the Democratic nominee for president, Hillary Clinton.

Beware, the treacherous college student!  the diversity trainer!  or, gasp, the Dread Hillary Clinton!!!  Re-education camps, here we come!!! AHAHAHAHA.

What I love most about this is how, if you take away the sarcastic tone French intended, most everything up to the confession isn’t really off-base.  Even if you think you are a decent person who treats people fairly, you do still suffer from implicit bias.  Hillary is right, everybody does; if you don’t believe me, test it out for yourself.  And those with less privilege will suffer more heavily the weight of those implicit biases than those with more privilege.  This is such an obvious truth that even Supreme Court Justice Kennedy and FBI Director Comey acknowledge and address it — note they refer to it as “unconscious bias.”

So yes.  We all have it — even preschool teachers.  We all have an obligation to be aware and to fight it.

Katherine Kimpel

Kate Kimpel is the Senior Editor of Shattering the Ceiling and is also an accomplished civil rights lawyer. She represents women and people of color in discrimination cases (and other kinds of employment and civil rights matters).  When not lawyering, she likely is bragging about her hound dog Ulysses, inventing cocktails to serve at her next dinner party, or convincing her husband to watch reruns of a Joss Whedon television show (any of them will do). 

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