The Burden of Bias
I do not believe that anyone is born with a racial bias. But I do think that biases start earlier than many would think. For example, a while back, researchers conducted a study that found that 3-month-olds prefer faces of their own race, but not newborns (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2566511/#:~:text=Overall%20the%20results%20obtained%20in,%2D%20or%20other%2Dethnic%20groups, I don’t know how widely accepted this particular study was). To me, this suggests that babies and small children are constantly picking up on patterns, for example, if they spend most of their time in the company of members of their race (as many infants do), they may develop a preference.
However, this does not account for some of the saddest parts of the Cooper study, such as all the children who said that the darkest child was the dumb one, or the bad one, or the mean one. Additionally, in the Clark study, the white doll was generally favored by all the children, not just the white ones. So, somewhere along the line, white and black children alike are learning that whiter is prettier, smarter, kinder, better. But how?
As other posters (@alberic25, @PineappleMan30, @239bid0073) mentioned, family/the environment in which we grow up has a huge impact on us. Children are incredibly impressionable and pick up on things their parents don’t expect (or want) them to. So little comments that adults see as harmless can have a big impact on a child’s view of the world. @razzledazzle8 said, “if a parent said a certain race was bad then their 4 year old child would believe it because they have no other evidence to think differently and always would believe their parents before anyone else,” and while I agree with this, I think that realistically, what happens more often and leads to the deep, hidden, difficult-to-get-rid-of bias is a situation more like @alberic25 describes: “A parent doesn’t have to come out and straight up tell a child that a certain race is bad inorder to teach their children to discriminate. It can be subtle and simple acts that a parent might do that a child notices and copies.” Exactly. Biases show up in many ways, even if a parent doesn’t intend it. This, plus dismal representation in media, adds up to make even young children highly biased.
So, can it be undone? I don’t want to say that anything is impossible. As conscious adolescents and adults, we can make efforts to fight our own racial bias, but I think that it takes a lot of work. Mentally and on the surface, it is not too difficult to tell yourself that you believe in racial equality. It’s what is hiding under the surface that is the most difficult to get rid of, in my opinion. You can’t tell yourself, “Okay. Black and white people are equally good. Period. Done.” and automatically have no bias. It doesn’t work like that. This is why the study done on children was so effective and telling. Children do not have that layer; they will not filter out what they consider to be socially unacceptable. They will come right out and point to the child they think is the dumb one.
The solution is not colorblindness. It is not a lack of racial awareness. Black children tend to be burdened with racial awareness far earlier than their white counterparts, because they will be affected and endangered by racism. They are burdened with society’s views of them as dumb, ugly, mean, et cetera, to the point where many of the black children in the studies pointed to the darkest child as the dumb, ugly, or mean one. It is argued that (white, usually) children should not be taught about racism because they are too young for it and can’t handle it. Black children should be too young to be subjected to racism, but look at the world! (This is not to say that any adults are “old enough” to be subjected to racism. No one is.) So I say that an effective measure to start to work against implicit bias would be dialogues starting at home and continuing at school, as soon as children have the mental capacity to discuss. The earlier, the better, because young children are more likely to have honest, straightforward discussions.
Regarding the IAT, I think it is a flawed, unscientific test with some truth behind it. I was surprised by my results: I was actually told I was biased against white people. But I don’t think this is really true; I am not black and I know I have a level of implicit bias. I think the result may have been down to mind tricks and an expectation going into the test; wanting to “beat” it somehow. I think it could be improved by changing the description, the separate (not timed/required questions), and the way it set up the testing procedure. I do still think this is a valuable exercise because it makes us think about implicit bias and frames racism as a deeper issue than violently racist attacks or confrontations. Discomfort is valuable.