Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Ph.D. is so many things. The research findings and personal anecdotes that Eberhardt shares are educational and convicting, yet also discouraging and inspiring.
Biased is educational because Eberhardt, a social psychologist at Stanford, relates findings from her research and from various other studies that expose how bias is almost natural. The book is convicting because it shows how everyone is susceptible to unconscious bias, no matter how hard we may try to convince ourselves otherwise. Biased is discouraging because, well, racial bias doesn’t have any simple solutions and requires personal initiative and interest to be meaningfully addressed.
Yet, overall, Biased is inspiring because Eberhardt leaves the reader with hope.
Below are my brief takeaways from Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do (available at Amazon).
We Are All Biased
There is not a single person on this planet who is exempt from bias, unconscious or otherwise. We all make assumptions about people, places, and things based on attributes we associate them with, usually based on personal experiences or (probably most often) limited exposure. One does not need to be racist to be susceptible to racial bias, and bias obviously does not always have to include race.
For example, someone used to seeing predominantly Black professional basketball players may assume most Black men like to/can play basketball. Another person might associate a heavily-tattooed man with danger, criminality, or even gang affiliation.
As Eberhardt explains: “The process of making these associations is called bias. It can happen unintentionally. And it can happen in a matter of milliseconds.”
Christians Helped to Spread Scientific Racism
British surgeon Charles White (1728–1813) set out to prove, by observing physical features, that White Europeans were a superior and separate species from Black Africans. White ranked Asians closer to Europeans, and placed Africans as the most base form of life. White published his findings in 1766 in a book titled Account of the Regular Gradation in Man.
Quaker anthropologist Samuel George Morton took White’s work even further, amassing more than 1,000 human skulls from around the world to make his own observations. Like White, the Philadelphia researcher believed “Caucasians”/Europeans were separate and superior beings. As Eberhardt notes, Moton’s theories fit in nicely in Antebellum America, as its populace was heavily invested in “enslaving kidnapped Africans and in ‘civilizing’ or exterminating Native American tribes.”
Eberhardt notes that two Christian men, Josiah Nott and George Gliddon, were massively influential in taking Morton’s scientific racism to new heights because they blessed his polygenetic theories with biblical authority. The pair published their claims on the science of racial inferiority in the 1854 book titled Types of Mankind. The book is dedicated “to the memory of Morton.”
“Their story reframed the biblical story of creation: Adam and Eve were [W]hite; the other races were separate, lowly derivatives, placed by God in separate provinces,” Eberhardt writes.
Another famed 19th century scientist, Louis Agassiz, built on his predecessors’ work and “became a tireless champion of polygenism,” and also used the Bible to help legitimize his theories.
Teaching Children to Be ‘Colorblind’ Can Be Dangerous
A good amount of Biased involves discussions about various race studies Eberhardt or other scientists have conducted over the years. Some of these studies have focused on children, including one conducted by social psychologists Evan Apfelbaum and Nalini Ambady.
This particular study was focused on 60 mostly White fourth- and fifth-grade students from Boston public schools. As Eberhardt explains, some of the children were encouraged to be colorblind, yet all of the children listened to accounts of particular incidents involving other kids. Some of the stories “had clear racial components.”
What scientists discovered was that the kids who had been prepped to ignore race were less likely to identify cases of discrimination.
“Color blindness promoted exactly the opposite of what was intended: racial inequality. It left minority children to fend for themselves in an environment where the harms they endured could not be seen,” Eberhardt explains.
Instead of taking a colorblind approach with children, the author suggests adults “help children process the disparities and racial animus they see.” While encouraging children to develop interracial relationships helps, the author states that education–particularly with a focus on history–is also vital.
One of the questions posed to Eberhardt in a packaged Q&A provided by the publisher was whether it’s possible for someone to completely eliminate their bias. Eberhardt replied:
“I don’t think our goal should be to erase bias. Instead, we should manage it–just as we manage our hunger, thirst, and weight gain; just as we manage our stress, sleep, and hygiene. Rather than looking for a cure, we might be better served by understanding the conditions under which bias is most likely to emerge and lead to adverse consequences. Acknowledging our susceptibility to bias provides us with a degree of control over it. And gaining that control will protect us as individuals and as a society.”