“Blindspot” by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald

Subtitle: Hidden Biases of Good People

Recommended to me by: Patricia Nan Anderson

In clear, accessible language, this book debunks the notion that good people are free of biases. Starting with optical illusions and moving on to creating categories, the authors show that our brains automatically make assumptions about what we perceive based on past input.

We have hidden biases, also called mindbugs, that function like the blind spot in our retinas. We don’t perceive that we are not perceiving accurately.

Implicit associations can reveal some of our biases. You may be surprised, disappointed, or relieved by your results.

The first one, insects and flowers, usually demonstrates a powerful negative association with insects and positive association with flowers. Try the Insects and Flowers Implicit Association Test. I was surprised how much more difficult it was to sort the flowers with the negative words.

I was pleased to get a neutral result for the Race Implicit Association Test but much less happy to see a moderate association between Black people and weapons in the Race and Weapons Implicit Association Test.

I wasn’t happy with my result for the Gender and Career Implicit Association Test either. Relatedly, a 1% difference in the rate of promoting women and men can explain the steep attrition rates of women in technical fields.

More Implicit Association Tests.

Present-day discrimination often takes the form of not helping, rather than actively harming. A woman’s hand was badly cut up in an accident. In the ER, her husband said, “You have to help her, she’s an avid quilter!” The doctor was talking about “quickly stitching her up” until someone greeted her as a Yale professor, whereupon she was whisked off to receive complex hand surgery from an expert in the field. It’s hard to call people out on not helping enough.

There is some discussion of how to circumvent mindbugs and blindspots. Awareness helps. So does exposure to images and ideas that contradict the mindbugs. I think the long-term fix is to change the media, literary, and educational portrayals that continually reinforce discriminatory biases. Without explicitly saying so, the book makes a strong case for affirmative action.

In the appendices, the authors show careful scientific evidence for the effect of present-day racial discrimination, despite the fact that it is less accepted to be overtly prejudiced.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in a readable, in-depth look at social justice and how your brain works.

Available at Powell’s Books.

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