Wednesday, January 7, 2009

I shot an unarmed man today

It is normal to be prejudiced....and in a country like America that was born and raised on the notion of white supremacy (See manifest destiny, slavery, Jim Crow, internment of Japanese citizens...), it is normal to be prejudiced against black people. So ingrained is the idea that white culture is right, or at least the benchmark for all other cultures, that even most black Americans devalue blackness (See "the doll test" as one example. See black hack comedians and their "black people are always late, broke, triflin'..." schtick as another.) Read more...

I wrote those words in a post last year during the heightened racial tension of the presidential campaign. When I say that prejudice is "normal," I don't mean "right" or "moral." I just mean that racial bias is common and insidious. Tonight, I affirmed the truth in that statement through my own actions. I discovered an interesting test thanks to the blog Acting White. Called "The Police Officer's Dilemma," developed by the Stereotyping and Prejudice Research Laboratory, it aims to uncover "whether decisions to "shoot" a potentially hostile target can be influenced by that target's race." In the computerized challenge, a series of benign urban images are shown and occasionally an armed or unarmed man pops into frame. The test subject must quickly ascertain whether they are faced with a friend or foe, hitting "/" to shoot armed targets and "z" to holster their guns in the presence of an unarmed target.
Our research has provided robust evidence of racial bias in decisions to shoot (Correll, Park, Judd & Wittenbrink, 2002; Correll, Park, Judd, Wittenbrink, Sadler & Keesee, in press; Correll, Urland & Ito, 2006). Participants shoot an armed target more quickly and more often when that target is Black, rather than White. However, participants decide not to shoot an unarmed target more quickly and more often when the target is White, rather than Black. In essence, participants seem to process stereotype-consistent targets (armed Blacks and unarmed Whites) more easily than counterstereotypic targets (unarmed Blacks and armed Whites). Read more...

I have my biases in check, though...right? After all, I am a conscious black woman. Perhaps not. My test results mirrored the SPiRL's general findings. I was quicker to shoot an armed black man and slower to recognize an unarmed one.

What does this mean? I'm not sure. It certainly doesn't excuse officers whose trigger fingers get particularly itchy around young, black men. Shootings like that of Sean Bell are inexcusable tragedies. Period. Perhaps my results in "The Police Officers Dillemma" illustrate how real and pervasive racial biases are and reveal the need for vigorous training and screening of those sworn to protect and serve.

Take the test here.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...