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March 31, 2015

How unconscious race bias affects millennials


Are millennials as racist as past generations?

A common answer to that question is “no.” Millennials are more racially diverse than any other U.S. generation in history, with more than 40 percent identifying as non-white, and a Pew Research Center study published in 2014 shows that more millennials support interracial marriage than older generations.

But other research shows that this is not the full story. And a video that recently surfaced, showing fraternity members at Oklahoma University singing a racist chant, sparked a public discussion about millennials and race.

Psychology researchers at New York University have developed a special race lab to study implicit bias. The Implicit Association Test measures unconscious bias by timing how quickly participants associate positive or negative words with another person’s skin color. A study that compared the IATs of different age groups found that younger generations associate non-white people with negative words at the same rate as older generations, excepting those 60 and older.

One test shows participants quick images of other people and asking them to “shoot” them if they are holding a gun.

The first place participants look is another person’s face, meaning that they decide to shoot before seeing a gun, according to NYU researcher David Amodio. As a result, most people shoot faster at armed blacks than armed whites, and shoot unarmed black men more than unarmed white men.

Racial bias plays out in every aspect of life–on the street, in courtrooms and in personal interactions, Amodio said. “When you look around, you see people from all different backgrounds. You have no idea where they’re from really or what they’re thinking or what they’re doing here. But we categorize them instantly,” he said.

Warm up questions
  1. How would you define racism?
  2. How might scientists measure racism?
  3. Who is negatively affected by racism in the U.S.?
Critical thinking questions
  1. See this WGBH resource of examples of how different people and groups define racism. How do these definitions of racism differ and why?
  2. Do you think someone can accurately estimate their implicit bias? Why or why not?
  3. How does implicit bias affect your daily life? Can you think of any recent events, either in the news or in your own experiences, where implicit bias could have played a role?
  4. What is the danger of not understanding your own biases?
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