Link to an article by Tom Bartlett:
“Can We Really Measure Implicit Bias? Maybe Not”
A problem with “implicit bias” theory is that it has its own implicit bias of the cognitivist and/or politically liberal variety. In short, the question of detecting “implicit bias” is inexorably tied to a supposed “solution” (or “acceptable” range of solutions) that is less explicitly discussed, thereby denying the political character of how the question is formulated in the first instance. While no doubt the elimination of bias/discrimination/oppression is important, it is possible to question whether advocacy of political liberalism under the guise of “neutral” science is worthwhile to those ends. Conservatives, who are mostly the problem in terms of advocating for biased institutions, obviously oppose this stuff because they realize it is set up to be against them and their desired hierarchies of inequality. Moreover, proffering political liberalism as the solution to the problem of bias has the subtle effect of excluding liberalism from being part of the problem — especially if liberalism is seen as being about limiting/softening but still maintaining the sorts of hierarchies of inequality that conservatism seeks. So consider what follows a critique of “implicit bias” theory from a left perspective.
- “[B]y policing the acceptable boundaries of conflict, liberals end up denying the existence of conflict altogether. Injustice, in the liberal narrative, is a product of misunderstanding, an offspring of faceless processes that no one really benefits from and only the ignorant line up in defense of. *** In the liberal imagination, education and accommodation are self-evident solutions, since the problem can neither be understood as a matter of brute power struggles nor as a product of structural inequality fundamental to the functioning of entire institutions.“
- “Implicit bias” theory focuses on individuals as the cause of the problem of bias, as opposed to systemic/institutional causes, and therefore posits solutions generally limited to individual choices as being both necessary and sufficient. The impact of socially-constructed institutions that mediate individual action is bracketed out of the discussion. See “Beyond Bias: The Case for an Abolitionist Psychology“ (“the lucrative research paradigm of implicit bias . . . appeals to researchers, funders, and the general public alike because it offers an easy way to address racism without casting blame or leveling inconvenient institutional critiques.”) and “Social Constructs” (there are more than “objective facts” and “subjective individual thought” categories, namely, “social constructs” exist beyond one person’s individual control and “subjective” thoughts but are also not immutable material/scientific “objective facts”). In this respect there is the problem of the supposedly post-political “third culture” and “scientific realism” tied to “implicit bias” theory, which fails to recognize the role of ideological social constructs.
- “Implicit bias” theory presupposes an “identity politics” framework built around instilling a fear of making offense. See “The Politics of Identity”. However, doing so treats bias/discrimination as a root cause rather than a symptom or tool (i.e., means to pursue another end). See Racecraft: The Soul Of Inequality In American Life and Malcolm X Speaks; see also The Wretched of the Earth; Black Skin, White Masks; Pedagogy of the Oppressed; Anti-Semite and Jew.
- “Implicit bias” theory even fails to address Hannah Arendt‘s notion of the “banality of evil”. In precisely the same way Arendt characterized the Nazi functionary Adolph Eichmann not as a monster but as a stupid man seeking career advancement without concern for the impact his “career” as an administrator for concentration camps had on others, most “bias” is applied in order to obtain something (economic capital, social capital, etc.) within a framework of social constructs. Most academics seem to exclude the “banality of evil” from “implicit bias” as a matter of definition. In this way, it is of no surprise that any link between supposed “implicit bias” and biased conduct has failed to hold up to empirical scrutiny, because the “implicit bias” theory focuses on a kind of conduct that is rare (monstrous bias for its own sake, unconnected to the accumulation of various forms of capital), and avoids confronting the more common type of morally ambivalent, malignantly narcissistic social ambition in which people simply have no empathy or concern for effects on others.
- Perhaps the key thing that “implicit bias” theory (and liberalism in general) fails to address is precisely what Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote about in his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality: “This destructive potential of envy is the base of Rousseau’s well-known distinction between egotism, amour-de-soi (that love of the self which is natural), and amour-propre, the perverted preferring of oneself to others in which a person focuses not on achieving a goal, but on destroying the obstacle to it [quoting Rousseau, juge de Jean-Jacques, first dialog] . . . An evil person is thus not an egotist, ‘thinking only about his own interests’. A true egotist is too busy taking care of his own good to have time to cause misfortune to others. The primary vice of a bad person is that he is more preoccupied with others than with himself.” Quote citation: “The Cologne Attacks Were an Obscene Version of Carnival”
- “PC anti-racism is sustained by the surplus-enjoyment which emerges when the PC-subject triumphantly reveals the hidden racist bias on an apparently neutral statement or gesture” See also “The Destructiveness of Call-Out Culture on Campus”
- “[F]ights for racial and economic justice have historically been intertwined, and black leftists have led the charge. This history shows that a separation between race and class is by no means inevitable: It took a concerted ideological and political effort by the Right and center to stop the rise of a powerful, interracial working-class movement.” (this article historically identifies the separation of race and class issues with red-baiting and McCarthyism)
- All too often “implicit bias” programs take for granted unequal power, refuse to combat unequal power (if they don’t outright bolster it), and merely offer at most coping/defense mechanisms to the enablers and agents of power structures. See “Beyond Bias: The Case for an Abolitionist Psychology“ (“race and racism are not merely isolated issues of identity, bias, and split-second perceptions, but must instead be thought of in relation to racialization: the assemblage of institutions, ideologies, and economic forces that make some group differences and not others the basis for ongoing and tolerated subordination and exploitation. An abolitionist psychology grounds its work in analyzing and undoing these forces. Contra bias, it conceives of racism as an essential feature, not a bug, of the system.”)
- “The essence of liberalism is negotiation, a cautious half measure, in the hope that the definitive dispute, the decisive bloody battle, can be transformed into a parliamentary debate and permit the decision to be suspended forever in an everlasting discussion.”
- What is really lacking are (political) programs to distribute power/capital equally and eliminate privileges, coupled with programs to address how bigots should cope with the loss of privilege. That is, as part of redistributive efforts people who have psychological desires that are furthered by obsolete symptomatic biases need to be helped to change their desires, which is very difficult. This seems to only happen at the fringes, if at all. One example of an attempt in this direction is Judith Katz‘s book White Awareness. See also The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South, “Why Doesn’t Diversity Training Work? The Challenge for Industry and Academia” and “Life After Hate”.
Bonus links: “Understanding the Racial Wealth Gap” and “A Southern City With Northern Problems”