Recently, I read a post from With Some Grace which was inspired by an SBS Insight special, “I’m Not Racist, But…….”. The show, in turn, was most likely prompted by the government’s upcoming National Anti-Racism Strategy, which we are all urged to be a part of.
In my last post, I shared my opinions on the concept of “race” and related terminology. I strongly believe “race” is not a biological reality. Genetics have shown more similarity between “races” than we may realise. I believe “race” is a social construct primarily to categorise people on physical appearance. Personally, I dislike the word and prefer to use “ethnicity” when describing the cultural heritage of people from diverse backgrounds.
Today, I wanted to share my experience and thoughts of the test used to determine innate or prejudiced inclinations – the IAT (Implicit Association Test).
I will finish this series with the “nature versus nurture” debate and provide some resources for educating our children about difference and diversity.
The Implicit Association Test
The IAT was developed by Harvard University in the USA to gauge “hardwired” racism and other prejudices. For the show, the audience was asked to take the Aboriginal Test. As described by SBS Insight host, Jenny Brockie:
“…..The test measures subconscious associations we have using pictures and words. We wanted to compare attitudes towards white and indigenous Australians…..First, they had to link one group with negative words and the other with positive words, then vice versa…..Your reaction time reveals how readily you link good and bad feelings with those different groups……”
Three Tests for Race?
Before I took the Aboriginal IAT, I noticed other tests in the main menu. These measured subconscious prejudice for skin-tone, race, sexuality, gender, countries, weight and age.
It puzzled me why there were three tests focusing on racial traits – skin-tone (light-skin vs dark-skin), race (black vs white) and Aboriginal (Aboriginal vs White). This immediately irked me. “Race” is not a dichotomy of just “black” and “white”, if we must colourise people at all. What about other ethnic groups?
Judging Ambiguous Statements
As I worked through the Aboriginal IAT, I had further issue with some of the word statements from the test site. Some of these statements are below. These required an answer indicating slight, moderate or strong agreement or disagreement.
“There are many radical, immoral people trying to ruin things; society ought to stop them.”
“It is better to accept bad literature than to censor it.”
“Many good people challenge the state, criticise the church and ignore ‘the normal way of living’.”
“The situation in the society of today would be improved if troublemakers were treated with reason and humanity.”
I felt uncomfortable with the value judgment about the definition of certain words. What is “bad literature”? Immoral, poorly written? Who are “troublemakers”? A person of a different race or ethnic background? An actual criminal? Asylum seekers? The context would definitely influence my answer.
Who Decides Your Race?
The race-related/skin colour tests also rely on society’s categorisation of someone’s race. They ignore the actual reality of an individual’s diverse ethnic heritage. They assume a person who looks “black” or “white” must be classified as one or the other. What about mixed race people who look more black or more white?
The audience present for the SBS Insight special took the Aboriginal IAT. The host Jennie Brockie reported that, “The results found that around 80% of you have negative associations with indigenous people.” It was an interesting result given the diversity apparently within the audience. Some were not surprised at the result. However, others were in disbelief with their own test result and heartily disagreed.
And what of my test results? I ended up with a neutral to slight preference for white.
At the end, the test asks why you believe you received the result you did and whether you accept it. For me, I am convinced it is because of “my greater familiarity with one group or topic than the other”. Pure and simple.
The Implications of the Test – Are we doomed to our fate?
Going back to the actual tests in themselves; do they prove racism is “hardwired”? Personally, I totally reject this notion. As one audience member so wisely and insightfully stated:
“It’s a bit of a copout to suggest racism is a genetic thing. We’re medicalising it and it’s a social problem. If it’s genetic, brought from family to family….it’s more of a cultural thing not a genetic thing. By medicalising it and inventing a pill to cure it, we’re saying, “It’s not my fault. I can do this because I’m hard-wired to do it.” It’s a cultural problem, it’s an educational problem, politically put out there, media put out there and we lap it up maybe because we’re frightened of difference or whatever. But I really have a problem with medicalising racism.”
And so do I.
More about that in my next and last post in which I share my thoughts on the “nature versus nurture” perspective of racial awareness and what we can do as parents to educate our children.
I am not an academic expert in any aspect of race or ethnic studies, either from an anthropological, biological or sociological perspective. I purely have a personal interest in the topic due to my own cultural background. These are my own personal opinions. I also acknowledge that I write of this from what might be deemed a perspective of “white privilege” and I realise those who live with daily prejudice might beg to differ. I welcome your thoughts.
I’m linking with Jess from Diary of a SAHM for IBOT.