A Hard Look at How We SEE Race | Think without Thinking |Ignoring Poverty?

“For the first time in history, we’ll be able to see firsthand how police officers make contact with the public and how those interactions unfold in real time,” Eberhardt says. “And we’ll soon be in a position to design interventions that can directly affect the course of those interactions.”

Analyzing racial disparities in America.

Jennifer Eberhardt’s research shows subconscious connections in people’s minds between black faces and crime, and how those links may pervert justice; law enforcement officers across the country are taking note.

By Sam Scott, from Stanford Magazine | Winter 2015

The first time Jennifer Eberhardt presented her research at a law enforcement conference, she braced for a cold shoulder.  How much would streetwise cops care what a social psychology professor had to say about the hidden reaches of racial bias?

Instead, she heard gasps, the loudest after she described an experiment that showed how quickly people link black faces with crime or danger at a subconscious level. In the experiment, students looking at a screen were exposed to a subliminal flurry of black or white faces.  The subjects were then asked to identify blurry images as they came into focus frame by frame.

The makeup of the facial prompts had little effect on how quickly people recognized mundane items like staplers or books.  But with images of weapons, the difference was stark—subjects who had unknowingly seen black faces needed far fewer frames to identify a gun or a knife than those who had been shown white faces. For a profession dealing in split-second decisions, the implications were powerful.

Lorie Fridell, then head of research for a law enforcement policy group in Washington, D.C., says Eberhardt’s research helped her resolve a nagging paradox.  She sensed that law enforcement had a problem with racial profiling. Yet she was certain the vast majority of officers would sincerely recoil at the idea of policing with prejudice.

The answer, Eberhardt’s work suggested, was largely in the subconscious.  Intentions hardly mattered.  “It totally changed my perspective,” Fridell says.

More than a decade later, Eberhardt is no longer the anonymous academic she was then.  A “genius award” from the MacArthur Foundation last year served as perhaps the broadest notice yet that Eberhardt is someone with something vital to say.  Yet her signature remains the same: unsettling research revealing the long, pernicious reach of unconscious racial bias, and an unrelenting commitment to share her findings with the outside world.

“This is not someone who is just doing work in the ivory tower of a university,” says Chris Magnus, chief of police in Richmond, California, a Bay Area city where a quarter of the population is black. “This is someone who is really out in the trenches working with police departments and the criminal justice system.”

Eberhardt’s message is not an easy one to hear, particularly for the many Americans who think racial discrimination is largely a thing of the past, or that they themselves would never treat someone differently because of race, or that racism is somewhere else.

In one study capturing how high the stakes are, Eberhardt and her colleagues analyzed two decades’ worth of capital murder cases in Philadelphia involving white victims and black defendants—44 cases in all. The defendants’ photographs were independently rated according to how stereotypically black they appeared.



How we think without Thinking! Malcolm Gladwell lecture 2005


la homeless

Ignoring Poverty in Plain Sight

Randall Shelden: Among sociologists and criminologists, it has always been obvious that even a cursory look at the nature of crime and the criminal justice system reveal that class and race play important, if not THE most important, roles.

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