Sean Bell’s murder by the New York City Police makes me think about the hard wiring of racism in the mind.
Pundits are saying that racism wasn’t involved because the officers who killed Bell were white, black, and Latino. How can a multi-racial police force commit a racist act? One reason among many is that racism is a much deeper structure in the mind than most people recognize.
Occasionally I assign the Harvard Implicit Association Test to students who are in my sociology or black studies courses. All of the students are generally skeptical of its validity. (I’m pretty convinced, the methodology is pretty solid. Read here about how the test works.) The test basically measures the implicit, that is pre-conscious associations we make between different objects, concepts, categories. Several of the tests show that implicit associations and basic motor skills are conditioned by discriminatory racism. Some of the Implicit Tests deal with associations between race and weapons and race and emotions (see – “Race IAT” and “Weapons IAT”). Most people who take the test are surprised that they associate weapons with African Americans, as they do negative words/emotions. Even blacks who take the test generally find that they negatively assocate with African Americans.
There’s a great deal of systemic racism throughout police forces in the United States. But with the Bell case I can’t help but think a little more about the power of racism on this psychological level at which white cops, black cops and brown cops murder innocent non-whites.