Implicit Prejudice


I first heard the term this morning on a radio show. It is a subconscious prejudice that is inadvertently expressed.

The topic captures my attention for several reasons. I grew up being influenced by the accepted racism of my parents’ generation. As a pastor, I finally had my eyes opened a bit, as friendships developed with my black and Hispanic colleagues. Then, I had the opportunity to literally fight for a Hispanic congregation to share our church building and a black congregation to join us for services.

I have a couple of close relationships with people who are openly racist. I keep trying to nurture those relationships, not with the goal of changing their views, because that would be folly, but with the goal of loving them. These are close relationships that are very important to me. They know I find their racism disgusting, but I hope they know I love them.

We are all prejudice. Our upbringing, our relationships, and our experiences with a few people, shape our opinion of large swaths of humanity. Some people know that and try to be wary of the labeling, and lumping people into groups of “them,” without ever getting to know a “her” or a “him.” Others, are, unfortunately okay with it.

It’s wrong and very unlike Jesus. Ultimately, I think it hurts the owner of the attitude as much as the object of it. These people seem unhappy to me. They have to categorize things (and people.) Society needs to be ordered according to their wishes for them to be at peace. Diversity makes them crazy, and they believe it is killing their country. They are prisoners in a world they hate, and prisoners to their own heart of hate.

The first guest on the radio show this morning was a community leader who spoke of the dangers of implicit prejudice. She carefully used politically correct terminology, but said nothing that had any traction, because of her obvious absence of factual support. Her words rang hollow.

The second guest was a researcher and consultant who worked with different groups to actually attempt to change attitudes. He spoke of the ineffectiveness of sensitivity training, and how there was shaky scientific evidence, at best, that there is a significant link between implicit prejudice, and actual behavior. He dealt with facts and real, specific solutions, tailored to specific situations.

I haven’t seen much of that! With all of the attention on racial issues, I haven’t noticed much honest talk from all of the perspectives involved. I definitely haven’t noticed much talk about solutions. For instance, the second radio show guest addressed how police officers can defuse potentially violent encounters.

I am not fond of the term, “implicit prejudice.” I know everyone has some of it, but there is enough explicit prejudice coming from every ethnic group, and that should be our focus. We should be focusing on things that work, and solutions that change behavior.

“Dog whistle politics” is another term that makes me crazy. The concept is that bigoted people cloak their bigotry in a kind of code. So, a term like “welfare queen” means “black.” Maybe, some people use this code. Most do not.

We can look for the needle in the haystack, or we can try to diffuse the lit stick of dynamite.

We can chase ghosts, or deal with real and present dangers.

We can get our culture so PC, that we can’t have an honest conversation about anything important. Then those people on the edge of violence are nudged over the line, and that incident will insight further hatred.

Or, we can get to know each other, talk openly, deal with real issues, and work toward real solutions.


Photo Credit: Scott. Creative Commons. 

About Glenn

Glenn Hager is a blogger, former newspaper columnist, and author of two books, An Irreligious Faith and Free Range Faith.
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