Implicit Bias

Campaign 2016 VP Debate

I’ve largely avoided the constant stream of commentators telling me their spin on Tuesday night’s VP Debate but I couldn’t help overhearing and seeing a few reoccurring talking points: Governor Pence was the Winner (even before the debate began), he seemed more Presidential, in control, and calm. This in turn raises questions of whether or not Pence’s performance helps Trump or hurts him. Does is simply draw greater attention to Trump’s horrible behavior and inability to control himself? And what about Pence’s ability to straight up lie about everything Trump has actually said? Is that Presidential?

Personally I kind of liked Senator Kaine playing the attack dog role and ripping into a few key points, like Trump’s refusal to keep his word and release his taxes. No matter what you think of either man’s performance, however, or the importance of this matchup to the overall election, there was a moment that stood out to me and seems to have been largely overlooked. I did find some mention of it when I searched for it but it certainly wasn’t in the main headlines and soundbites I encountered.

At one point, Pence was rebuking Secretary Clinton for talking about, “implicit bias” (i.e. racial bias) and making the argument that if two people are of the same “race” then it is (as Pence seems to see it) self-evidently impossible for racism to be a factor in how they treat one another. Specifically, Pence said: “When an African American police officer is involved in a police … shooting involving an African American, why would Hillary Clinton accuse that African American police officer of implicit bias?” I’m sure that made many of Trump’s supporters let out a little cheer at home. “Yeah! You can’t be racist again your own race. Stupid liberals. You tell-em Pence!”

This line of thinking is actually a huge (or is it “Yuge”) part of the problem and proof of the implicit bias we all live with. The very concept of race is false. There is only one human race. No skin color or nationality or religion or artificial subdivision, no matter how pseudoscientific it sounds, can be biologically defined as a, “race,” separate from other, “races.” We have all been raised to believe that, “blacks” and “whites,” “African Americans” and “Caucasians,” are distinct races, even if we are also told that they are equal before the law and before God. This fundamental misconception of the world continues to haunt us and lead to all manner of problems (all manner of implicit biases) and the fact that so many people can’t even see this makes these problems dramatically worse.

In Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom he talks about his life as an ANC Activist, before he was imprisoned, traveling around Africa to generate support of the anti-apartheid, pro-democracy cause in South Africa. At one point he admits that he got on a plane where the cockpit door was open and he could see there was a black pilot. Mandela’s first thought was, “We’re going to die,” because blacks can’t be pilots. He quickly realized how silly he was being; how he had bought into the very lie he was fighting against. He did not think of blacks as pilots because he had never seen one and subconsciously accepted the idea that pilots are white. If Mandela, arguably the greatest international symbol in the world against racism, could not completely escape the confines of this false worldview and the implicit biases that flow from it, why should we think a black police office, or any of us can be free from such tendencies.

One of the implicit biases that is most prominent throughout America is the idea that black men, particularly young black men, are more prone to violence, more incapable to controlling themselves, and less trustworthy than white men. You can say, “I don’t believe that,” and I hope you don’t! But that doesn’t change the fact that we have been inundated with this message in our homes and in the media for generations upon generations. Even when you try to be consciously aware of this fact and reject it, you cannot so easily escape from its effect on the way you think and act. Now, take an police officer – “black,” “white,” or whatever artificial “racial” label you wish to put upon him – put him in a stressful situation, and tell me he’ll be free from implicit bias just because the fellow citizen in from of him is of the, “same race.” It’s ridiculous.

Pence may have fired up the base of Trumps supporters by not being as bad as Trump but he only proved to me how clueless the political right has become. As I have tried to argue before, these are not, “real conservatives,” and I won’t be a party to their willful ignorance.

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