August 12th marked the anniversary of last year’s Charlottesville riots, and White supremacists are organizing once again. When comparing their own beliefs to such overt racism, many White Americans feel comfort in their (supposed) lack of prejudice. But even if Whites believe they are not racist, their attitudes and actions may prove to be so. These forms of implicit bias, though often less pronounced, can be equally harmful. In a recent article in the Washington Post, Megan R. Underhill calls for Whites to take their own implicit racial prejudices seriously and speak up against such bias.
According to previous research, Whites are more likely to trust other Whites and distrust people of color. Both the negative portrayal of Black people from the media and high segregation of the White American population can heighten this implicit bias. Structural inequality and misguided understandings of white victimization may also contribute. According to Underhill,
“Whites’ sense of having been ‘left behind’ has manifested in the emergence of an overtly angry white identity rooted in feelings of victimization. Empirically, whites’ racial anger is misguided. Black Americans continue to lag behind whites on almost every indicator, including but not limited to income, wealth and education. Further, though federal programs like affirmative action have opened doors for people of color, it was actually white women who benefited most from these policies.”
Further, police’s reactions to Black individuals have proven fatal on a number of occasions. Though these issues are vast, Underhill suggests some constructive steps forward:
“White people who feel triggered by the sight of an unfamiliar black person in a space they consider theirs should understand that what they’re feeling is implicit bias. Think about the repercussions of picking up the phone and calling the police. White people who witness needless harassment of people of color should speak up and try to de-escalate the situation. Blackness is not criminal.”