Are We All Secret Racists?

Correll's video game where African American were gripping various objects

Correll's video game where African American were gripping various objects

If someone asked you if you were a racist, or a sexist, or any other -ist which carries traces of prejudice, you would most probably reply, “No.” Then, you would probably even be offended by the question. We’ve evolved and progressed a considerable amount since the days of slavery. But the truth is awful, and we are all apparently still racist…

Do you know what a shooter bias is? In a nutshell (one that makes all of us cringe with shame) it is that when forced to make split-second decisions (that means a decision in less than a fraction of a second, with no real thinking involved), we are all more inclined to shoot African-Americans faster than we are white people. By all, this means even African-Americans are more inclined to shoot African-Americans quicker than white people.

So how did we discover this? In an experiment, social psychologist Joshua Correll uses a video game to test whether racial bias triggers the decision to shoot a suspect. Using images of white and black men, each gripping a cell phone, a wallet, or a handgun, Correll and his colleagues devised a video-game experiment that requires split-second judgments. One after another, images flash onto a monitor and participants must decide whether the man in each picture is carrying a gun. Within 850 milliseconds (or fewer, depending on “how much we want to push people,” Correll says), they must press one key to shoot or another to leave the figure unharmed. The “targets,” as Correll calls them, stand in different poses—kneeling, striding, arms crossed, hands near their pockets—and they’re placed before mostly urban backgrounds: a public fountain, an apartment-building courtyard, a construction site, a leafy park, a parking lot.

Correll tested a wide range of subjects and found out that people’s mistakes, although rare, follow a pattern: they shoot more unarmed blacks than unarmed whites, and they fail to shoot more whites than blacks who turn out to be holding weapons. The trend held true even when the participants themselves were African American. It is quite shocking… but could it be that we are all subconsciously racist? And the media does little to help this bias- it perpetuates this prejudice. We’re constantly exposed to subliminal messages that only reinforce our inner discrimination.

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