The Social Roots of Implicit Racial Bias

My current research bridges social psychological and sociological research on racial attitudes with a focus on anti-Black implicit bias. This kind of bias is generally unconscious, and it causes discrimination in schools, hospitals, courtrooms and various other social settings. Social psychologists tend to identify the determinants of implicit racial bias in internal processes (i.e., cognition and personality traits), early childhood socialization and intergroup contact. To date, sociologists have largely ignored this important dimension of racism, focusing instead on explicit racial attitudes that are ignited by group competition for material goods and social privilege. As a result, we still lack understanding of the ways that broad social forces shape implicit racial bias.

Derived from my National Science Foundation-funded doctoral work, “The Social Roots of Implicit Racial Bias,” my current project examines relationships between social factors and white Americans’ anti-Black implicit bias. I improve on past social psychological studies of implicit bias, which tend to rely on small samples of college students, by analyzing original survey data and Race Implicit Association Test scores from a sample of 380 white Americans. The sample is weighted to be nationally representative with regard to key variables.

I show that political party, interracial friendship, and religion have important implications for implicit racial bias that have not been previously captured. Further, my work shows that implicit racial bias can fuel some forms of explicit racial bias in the context of higher education. My research challenges classic theorizations of affective prejudice as buried in the individual and impervious to social forces. It also calls for reconsideration of the current consensus that implicit and explicit racial bias are always cleanly distinct. My scholarship has the potential to inform interventions to reduce implicit racial bias, thereby improving life chances for African Americans across the U.S.

Gender Equality Attitudes in Senegal

In addition to studying racial attitudes, I have also examined attitudes about gender.  In a previous project, I used original survey and in-depth interview data to show that residents of two Senegalese villages that had been exposed to multiple gender equality development programs were more rejecting of gender equality than residents of a low exposure village. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, the Jacob K. Javits Fellowship and a Fulbright Research Fellowship.