The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Implicit Racial Bias

If we remove all of the political hysteria on both the Right and the Left surrounding the NFL-kneeling debate, it's fair to state that the complaint of those NFL players who choose to kneel is the following: there is implicit racial bias that pervades every aspect of life in our country. As a consequence, people of color have become victims who are not allowed to achieve the economic and social rewards that are so easily attained by Caucasians.

The Left often states that the actions of NFL players should start a "conversation" about the italicized contention in the preceding paragraph. But those same left-wingers suggest that when any countervailing facts or positions are offered, those arguments and the person making them are "racist." End of the conversation!

Heather McDonald is an outstanding researcher and journalist who specializes in racial disparities throughout the United States. Unlike the trained hamsters in most of the media, she spends the time it takes to look at the data, read the research, and draw conclusions based on fact, not on emotion. She writes:
Few academic ideas have been as eagerly absorbed into public discourse in recent years as “implicit bias.” Embraced by a president [Barack Obama], a would-be president [Hillary Clinton], and the nation’s top law-enforcement official [Eric Holder], the implicit-bias conceit has launched a movement to remove the concept of individual agency from the law and spawned a multimillion-dollar consulting industry. The statistical basis on which it rests is now crumbling, but don’t expect its influence to wane anytime soon.

Implicit bias purports to answer the question: Why do racial disparities persist in household income, job status, and incarceration rates, when explicit racism has, by all measures, greatly diminished over the last half-century? The reason, according to implicit-bias researchers, lies deep in our brains, outside the reach of conscious thought. We may consciously embrace racial equality, but almost all of us harbor unconscious biases favoring whites over blacks, the proponents claim. And those unconscious biases, which the implicit-bias project purports to measure scientifically, drive the discriminatory behavior that, in turn, results in racial inequality.

The need to plumb the unconscious to explain ongoing racial gaps arises for one reason: it is taboo in universities and mainstream society to acknowledge intergroup differences in interests, abilities, cultural values, or family structure that might produce socioeconomic disparities.
I suspect that Leftists would label McDonald's statement as "racist" out of hand. The reason? It hits a nerve by identifying the obvious. It's certainly possible that implicit bias exists, but it is not the only and exclusive parameter (difference) that might effect those who have not achieved the economic and social rewards that others may have achieved.

McDonald goes on to address the psychology experiments that form the "science" behind the implicit racial bias argument. It's well worth reading in its entirety. In summary, she writes:
The fractious debate around the IAT [an implicit association test used to examine bias] has been carried out exclusively at the micro-level, with hundreds of articles burrowing deep into complicated statistical models to assess minute differences in experimental reaction times. Meanwhile, outside the purview of these debates, two salient features of the world go unnoticed by the participants: the pervasiveness of racial preferences and the behavior that lies behind socioeconomic disparities.

One would have difficulty finding an elite institution today that does not pressure its managers to hire and promote as many blacks and Hispanics as possible. Nearly 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have some sort of diversity infrastructure, according to Howard Ross. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires every business with 100 or more employees to report the racial composition of its workforce. Employers know that empty boxes for blacks and other “underrepresented minorities” can trigger governmental review. Some companies tie manager compensation to the achievement of “diversity,” as Roger Clegg documented before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 2006. “If people miss their diversity and inclusion goals, it hurts their bonuses,” the CEO of Abbott Laboratories said in a 2002 interview. Since then, the diversity pressure has only intensified. Google’s “objectives and key results” for managers include increased diversity. Walmart and other big corporations require law firms to put minority attorneys on the legal teams that represent them. “We are terminating a firm right now strictly because of their inability to grasp our diversity expectations,” Walmart’s general counsel announced in 2005. Any reporter seeking a surefire story idea can propose tallying up the minorities in a particular firm or profession; Silicon Valley has become the favorite subject of bean-counting “exposés,” though Hollywood and the entertainment industry are also targets of choice. Organizations will do everything possible to avoid such negative publicity.
Similar attempts to improve diversity are occurring every day at universities (for both faculty hiring and student admissions) and throughout the federal government.

When McDonald presents hard data about SAT scores and other knowledge-based metrics, she treads on very dangerous ground. Like psychologist Richard Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray, who wrote the infamous book, The Bell Curve, way back in the 1990s, she will be labelled a racist so that the core of her argument will be controversialized. It's easy to characterize significant differences in outcomes as driven by "implicit racial bias" but it's also dishonest to suggest that other parameters don't come into play. In fact, it just might be that those other parameters have a significantly greater effect than any implicit bias that does exist. If the NFL players and their supporters really do want to initiate a conversation, the data presented by Heather McDonald and other researchers might be a good place to start.


Progressives love the sound of the phrase "social justice." It provides a clear and obvious pathway for moral preening without providing pragmatic solutions to the problems (both real and imagined) that are identified. Social justice is demanded (by NFL player protesters and their supporters) in the case of "implicit racial bias." But what exactly is being proposed by those who make the demand. Eliminate bias? A good idea, but how exactly does that happen, and more important, how exactly will the elimination of implicit racial bias on its own address many of the other cultural, educational, and structural aspects that may affect achievement and economic outcomes? I suppose it could be argued that by eliminating bias all of the other aspects would disappear, but that's wishful thinking and completely unsupported by any empirical evidence.

Possibly, those who demand vague ideas like "social justice" might focus instead on targeted actions that would explicitly address the cultural, educational, and structural aspects that affect afflicted communities. I suspect that if real solutions were proposed and implemented successfully by the affected communities themselves, implicit racial bias would take care of itself.