Racial bias: A dangerous ‘blindspot’ in our society

Johanna Wald | 5/8/2013, 10:26 a.m.
Johanna Wald ...

Not surprisingly, it is much easier for us to access empathy and sympathy from the brain neurons reserved for ourselves and folks like us, than from the parts of our brain that view people whom we perceive to be different. Banaji recently stated that, today, when most overt acts of discrimination are both illegal and socially taboo, “prejudice proceeds” not from whom we exclude or push away so much as “from whom we choose to help out.” Or, perhaps, from whom we choose to give the benefit of the doubt.

Thankfully, those individuals falsely identified as suspects by the media and public suffered only a day or two of terror and fear, rather than weeks, months or even years of living under a cloud. But there is a cautionary tale in this as well.

The implicit biases that allow us to view a student running away from an explosion as suspicious, yet cannot recognize a face we see every day, can be mitigated, but only if we acknowledge and work to overcome them. Otherwise, this same scenario will play out over and over again, often to tragic and unjust ends.

Johanna Wald is director of strategic planning at the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice, Harvard Law School.