Why Some People Don't Know They're Racist

George Zimmerman with his attorney Mark O'Mara in court (pool/Getty Images)
George Zimmerman with his attorney Mark O'Mara in court (pool/Getty Images)

Rinku Sen, president and executive director of the Applied Research Center and publisher of Colorlines, writes an incisive piece that tackles racism and bigotry at their most visceral levels in the aftermath of George Zimmerman's acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. The nation's legal frameworks are based on punishing explicit racism, not "implicit bias," she writes.

The verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial caused in me the kind of existential crisis that my optimistic nature is usually able to fend off. In these weeks I have come to understand just how much light exists between the basic assumptions of the racial justice movement and those of most white Americans. A Pew Research Center survey conducted in the week after the verdict revealed a huge gap between black and white attitudes. Just 30 percent of white respondents said they were dissatisfied with the verdict, compared to 86 percent of blacks. The key strategic question for a racial justice movement is whether to focus on growing that 30 percent, or simply to out organize the rest. To figure out an answer, we need to delve into the complicated relationship between explicit racism, unconscious bias, policymaking and culture.

Our legal frameworks are based on punishing explicit racism. Yet the not-explicit kind, what is known among social psychologists as “implicit bias,” also undergirds the punishing policies that make young black men so vulnerable to deadly forms of discrimination. That reality creates a challenge, because it’s much easier to condemn obvious racism than the kind that expresses itself in, say, Juror B37’s statement that Zimmerman could credibly assume Trayvon Martin was "trying to do something bad in the neighborhood."  Implicit bias is the reason why.


Read Rinku Sen's entire piece at Colorlines.

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