A whirlwind of activity via pop culture, politics and law enforcement has put Black people under the microscope once again.
Earlier this week the country saw George Zimmerman face charges in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in a case that has brought to the surface racial biases and pain. Despite constant talk about Natalee Holloway and JonBenet Ramsey years after their stories have concluded, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of Republicans and white people think the media is devoting too much attention to the Trayvon Martin case.
TV One is presenting a new season of “Find Our Missing,” hosted by actress S. Epatha Merkerson, as the conversation over the media’s lack of furor over Black children missing increases by the day.
In entertainment, one person took it upon themselves to create a page on the social blogging site Tumblr devoted to white people on Twitter angry over many of the main characters in the film adaptation of “The Hunger Games” being people of color, despite the book explicitly stating that the characters had olive or dark skin. One tweeter went so far as to say that finding out that a character was Black and not white didn’t make her death seem as bad.
The bias and perceptions that come with having a different skin color have been chronicled on more than several occasions. However, with the access that many Americans now have to media, there’s a new story or outrage once a week or multiple times in one day.
Project Implicit is a nonprofit organization and collaborative network of researchers that investigates implicit social cognition, which is the thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The research and tests produced on the project’s website are helping individuals understand how stereotypes and other biases influence one’s perception and judgment.
A now famous test that anyone can take online was featured on several news magazine shows on television. The online test is designed to tell a person if they have a preference for light or dark skin and how they perceive people of those respective skin tones. There are also exams for regarding music preferences, sports, political issues and the perception of Muslims and Arabs.
Dr. Anthony G. Greenwald, a member of the department of psychology at the University of Washington, helped create Project Implicit. He spoke with the AmNews about the significance of its creation and how it relates to current racially charged events.
“This stuff is indeed relevant to the work I do and the purpose of the Project Implicit site,” said Greenwald. “Most of these cases are about subtle aspects of reactions that people have that they don’t quite understand but that could be explained by the kind of processes that my colleagues represent.”
Brian Nosek, a member of the department of psychology at the University of Virginia and co-creator of Project Implicit, agrees.
“Yes, I believe that the Implicit Association Test can be a useful tool for self-awareness and education about implicit biases,” Nosek told the AmNews. “While they could be due to other causes, the cases you mention are ones where implicit biases could play a role.”
“These examples seem to be effects on the behavior, judgments and perceptions of whites and the effect of those on the Black community,” Greenwald continued. “That is a familiar story to which the work of Project Implicit is very relevant. Such discrimination has a mixture of causes, including both implicit and explicit bias.”
In the case of Zimmerman’s shooting of Martin, Joe Oliver was brought out as the “Black friend” to speak on Zimmerman’s behalf to prove he wasn’t racist. Oliver engaged in a heated exchange with MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and New York Times reporter Charles Blow on O’Donnell’s show several weeks ago. To psychologist and television personality Dr. Jeff Gardere, the curious case of the “Black friend” and racist accusations constantly popping up signals something built into American life that isn’t going away.
“It appears that almost every time racism or prejudice is discussed as a mitigating factor to some situation or event, the knee-jerk reaction by many is to denounce it as being paranoid thinking,” Gardere told the AmNews. “The fact of the matter is that prejudice continues to be part of the fabric of our American society. Until we are able to discuss these issues in an open and fair manner, they will not go away.”
With the actions that accompany bias, many Black parents have to talk to Black children at an early age about race relations. Gardere advises adults to not shy away from the talk. He believes that one should be as direct as possible when discussing how race might affect them and how to react accordingly.
“We should be honest with our children and explain to them how prejudice will affect their lives,” said Gardere. “We should have open and straightforward conversations with them as to how to recognize racism, sexism, homophobia and prejudice and how to respond in a positive and productive manner.
“It is important as adults that we do not openly complain but instead show understanding as to why inequities are part of life and how we create empowerment strategies to overcome them,” concluded Gardere.