by Lynn Willis
Orlando has been the center of a storm of horrible news lately. Many of us who are reading this article and wrestling with the causes, implications, and choices going forward are pretty sure that we are on the right side of history. We are good people. We don’t divide people into “us” and “them.”
Mahzarin Banaji agrees that we are good people but she has a huge caveat to share with us. Dr Banaji is a professor of social ethics in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. She has done many experiments on what she calls “implicit bias” – bias that we are totally unaware we have.
She’s the co-author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People and she’s the creator of the Implicit Association Test which has been taken by over 17 million people. Her research has led her to believe that all people, even “good people,” have implicit biases (we might say unconscious biases).
The Implicit Association Test frequently gives results that are disturbing. On the test website there are several warnings that you might not like what you find out about yourself.
“If you are unprepared to encounter interpretations that you might find objectionable, please do not proceed further.”
And yet the ongoing study is evaluated by researchers at the University of Washington, the University of Virginia, Harvard University, and Yale University.
…I do believe that, in our culture and in many cultures, we are at a point where our conscious minds are so ahead of where our less conscious minds are. Our conscious minds deeply believe in egalitarianism, in selecting people based on things called merit, on talent, and not based on the color of people’s skin, or their height, or whether they have hair on their head. And yet, we are doing that.
…“implicit” just allows us to shed that whole sort of moral encasing in which so much of our values about — “Am I a discriminator or not?” — comes. That I am especially interested in, letting people let go of that sort of sense — “I’m a bad human being.” The title of the book, therefore, has been Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. And the “good people” is extremely important to me. I do believe that we have changed over the course of our evolutionary history into becoming better and better people who have higher and higher standards for how we treat others. And so we are good. And we must recognize that, and yet, ask people the question, “Are you the good person you yourself want to be?” And the answer to that is no, you’re not. And that’s just a fact. And we need to deal with that if we want to be on the path of self-improvement.
Banaji* (emphasis added)
As Christian leaders, it is so important that we realize that there is still a “log in our own eye.” We need to be honest, look truthfully at ourselves and strive to improve. We are grateful for the leadership of Jesus. We work for social justice not because we are perfect or morally more pure than our neighbor. We work for social justice out of overwhelming gratitude that, in spite or ourselves, we are loved by God. And we wish for that love to spread and grow.
There are no easy answers to the shootings in Orlando – or any of the horrible attacks that are in the news. We cannot blame the system, because we are the system.
All we can do is keep our eyes on God, through Jesus, directed by the Spirit.
God help us.
If you would like to take the Implicit Association Test, you can find it here.
*Quotes are from On Being with Krista Tippet.