Few can speak more authoritatively to the subject of racial bias than Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt. In her 2019 book Biased, the MacArthur genius unpacked decades of research, some performed by herself and her colleagues, that helps explain how bias operates powerfully, but sometimes subconsciously, in the brain.
GEN caught up with Eberhardt to talk about how the subject of her book is playing out in the summer of George Floyd’s killing, how her work with police departments has helped decrease bias in arbitrary stops, and how we should talk about race with children.
GEN: Your book Biased explores the science of how bias works, often on an unconscious level. To what extent can a conscious exploration of our bias change our unconscious bias?
Reflection is a powerful tool. If we’re not believing that it’s something that’s out there to be reckoned with, in ourselves or in our world, we can let things go unchecked.
I often tell a story about my son at five years old on an airplane being worried that the only Black man on the plane was there to rob it. My response to that as a mother was to ask him why would he think that, to push him to interrogate his own mind. His response to me was like, “I don’t know why I said that. I don’t know why I was thinking that.”
We need to practice at reflecting on our own beliefs and our own thoughts. I think through that reflection we can have some power over it. In that case with my son, I was pushing him to do that in my presence. But the hope is that he would interrogate his own mind when I’m not there, too, that as he’s going through his day, as these thoughts enter his mind, he can actually grapple with them, raise them to consciousness so he can address them.
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