Prejudice Under the Microscope

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 1/24


America is obsessed with racism. A search on Amazon Books for “racism” turns up over 40,000 results, including over 2,000 new releases in the last 90 days and nearly 1,000 in the last 30 days. What used to be considered an offensive attitude of prejudice toward those of different races and ethnicities, one possessed by specific people and expressed through specific words and deeds, is now seen as an ever-present force in the ether, permeating every corner of the universe and affecting everyone all of the time.

Part of the way in which sociologists, psychologists, and other race-hustling “scholars” have convinced us of racism’s omnipresence is through the concept of “implicit bias,” that is, the idea that we may have prejudicial views of other groups without even knowing it. Some have taken this a step further, proclaiming that “all white people are racist,” that non-whites are incapable of racism, and that if a white person denies his being racist, he is displaying “white fragility.” All of these ideas and more have been classified under the umbrella terms of “critical race theory” (CRT) and New Racism, as opposed to the now-outdated (and racist) concept of Old Racism.

In an effort to quantitatively measure such an elusive thing as implicit bias, social psychologist Anthony Greenwald and several colleagues at the University of Washington developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT). Greenwald et al. first documented the IAT in a now-famous 1998 article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “Measuring Individual Differences in Implicit Cognition: The Implicit Association Test,” which remains one of the top-five cited articles in the journal’s history. Since then the IAT has exploded in popularity and has become the go-to tool for racism-hunters the world over.

Some remain skeptical, however. Should we trust the race IAT as a reliable measure of the bias one may or may not hold? 

In this week’s featured article series, Craig Frisby of the University of Missouri takes a deep dive into the IAT, analyzing the history, structure, and results of the test. In doing so, he investigated four key categories:

  1. Does the IAT actually measure what it purports to measure? Or, are there plausible competing explanations as to what is being measured? How much of whatever is being measured is useless ‘noise’?
  2. Whatever the IAT purports to measure, does it do so reliably? That is, can whatever is measured provide stable scores over time?
  3. Is whatever is being measured related in meaningful ways to other behaviors measured in laboratory settings?
  4. Is whatever is being measured related in meaningful ways to other behaviors deemed to be significant and important in real-world contexts?

Frisby answers these questions in a three-part series, introducing the IAT and his analysis in Part I, tackling categories 1-3 in Part II, and concluding his analysis in Part III. Does the IAT stand up to scrutiny when placed under the microscope?


CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Yassine Khalfalli, Public Domain

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