Y’all know I’m a sucker for a written test, even if, as I take it, I can hear the voice of Admiral Ackbar crying, “It’s a trap!”
Which was sort of the case with this one as it proceeded. Even as I thought I could see the trap taking shape and closing on me, hubris kept me going, hoping I’d ace it anyway.
I was attracted to the test by this item on the radio this morning. It was a story about all the Starbucks stores that are closed for racial-sensitivity training as I type this. Then came the hook:
How to evaluate your own bias:
The Takeaway invites you to participate in an assessment of your own implicit biases. Click here to access Harvard University’s “Project Implicit.” If this is the first time you’re attempting the test, you’ll have to continue as a guest. Select your country and language, then press “GO!” At the bottom of the next page, click “I wish to proceed.” Then select “Race IAT” — or other implicit association test of your choice — from the following page, and continue to follow the prompts from there to take the test. It should last about 10 minutes.
I went for it, of course. The result? It said “Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for European Americans over African Americans.”
Which kinda ticked me off, even though I saw it coming. What caused this conclusion of my racism?
I’ll tell you, but I ask you to go take the test before reading my explanation. No, really, I mean it now! Go take it before you read past this…
The test starts off by lulling you. It asks you questions you’d have to be a major, racist jerk — and a particularly dumb one at that — to answer “wrongly.” Questions like whether you prefer white people to black people, and to what degree.
Then there’s another batch of obvious-pitfall questions, about whether you think poor people are that way because they’re lazy and shiftless.
Then comes the trick part. From the beginning, I’m screwed because you’re supposed to respond as quickly as you can. That always messes me up. I like being rushed even less than other people do; in fact it’s a major personal peeve. My hand/eye coordination is about as quick as that of the average giant sloth, and I know it, and I get rattled.
But I can, eventually, sorta kinda get into the rhythm of the thing.
Anyway, in this part of the test, you’re supposed to, as quickly as possible, either hit the e key with your left hand or the i key with your right.
And here’s where it gets REALLY tricky: You’re not supposed to respond according to what you think, but according to how you have been told in advance to respond. And the way you have been told to respond is in a completed irrational, arbitrary manner.
In this portion of the test, the e and the i correspond to “good” and “bad” (or was it the other way around?). Onto your screen will flash two kinds of input — one of a set of photos of faces, and the other and set of words that are obviously expressing either positive associations (such as “happy”) or negative ones (such as “dirty”).
In the first half of this portion, you are instructed to click one of the letters for both black faces and positive words, and the other letter for white faces and negative words. This was kind of silly and irrational, and I hit the wrong key a couple of times, but I muddled through, and thought I was getting a little faster toward the end.
Then, once you’re warmed up, it reverses on you. You are instructed to hit one key for both black faces and negative words, and the other for white faces and positive words. This was both stupid and offensive, but I followed the instructions, and started doing it a bit faster as I went.
And as I did so, I suspected I was getting myself in trouble by getting better at following the instructions.
Sure enough, I was labeled moderately racist for getting a little faster in that last part — because, in the assumptions of the test creators, supposedly it was easier for my brain to associate the positive words with white faces, and negative ones with black ones. And that, they say, is why I did it more quickly.
Obviously, I believe that if it had been the other way around, with white folks associated with good words first, and bad words second, I would still have been faster on the last part. And then I would have been seen as having a moderate preference for black people, which I think would also have been kind of a bogus result.
But I don’t know that. And I kind of doubt that it would be valid to take it again. So I’ll just share with you what it said about me. The result is what it is…