"Reductions of Implicit Racial Bias as Remedies for Changing Negative Perceptions of Interracial Relationships"
College Writing 2, Mr. Andrew Lenaghan
I was inspired by my own relationship to write this piece. I am White, and my boyfriend is Black. While in public, we frequently receive critical stares from people, and it frustrates us and makes us feel uncomfortable. After these encounters, we usually find ourselves wondering: Why do some people react negatively to seeing interracial relationships? One of the major reasons why I was interested in writing this piece was to find some answers to that question, and I did!
Excerpt from “Reductions of Implicit Racial Bias as Remedies for Changing Negative Perceptions of Interracial Relationships”
"The ability to observe one’s mind in an extremely focused way can allow for people to develop awareness of unconscious thoughts and improve conscious behavior. This could be impactful in reducing implicit racial bias against interracial relationships because it brings people’s attention to their discriminatory thoughts and actions so that they can work on improving their psychological and physical behavior. Once people become consistent and serious practitioners of mindfulness and meditation, they can achieve very deep levels of both mind observation and body awareness. Their increased ability to recognize their own physically discriminatory behaviors could allow them to bring awareness to the unconscious thoughts that caused them to react negatively in the first place. Then, through their abilities to observe their minds on deep levels, they could work to recognize their psychological responses to seeing interracial relationships, and simultaneously, could work to catch, stop, and fix their implicitly induced physical reactions to seeing interracial relationships."
Reductions of Implicit Racial Bias as Remedies for Changing Negative Perceptions of Interracial Relationships
by Anna Sebastian
America has a long history of racial discrimination, from the genocide of Native American peoples, to the African Slave Trade, to Jim Crow segregation, to the present day where people are still fighting for racial equality through protests and activism. Since the United States has failed to completely and truthfully address the racial discrimination of its past, the country faces a cycle of history repeating itself, so racial discrimination is still a major problem.
A particular type of racial discrimination that existed in the past and continues today is people having negative perceptions of interracial relationships. Fears associated with interracial relationships, such as interracial sex (including race mixing of children) and marriage, have a deep-rooted history in the U.S. After slavery was abolished, systems like segregation were put into place with one of their intentions being the prevention of intimate interracial relationships. Anti-miscegenation laws deemed interracial relationships illegal and punishable criminal offenses. Black/White pairings, especially when the man was Black and the woman was White, was heavily frowned upon in the Southern United States. Black men were punished extremely for participating or being accused of participating in interracial relationships with White women. Sometimes this included lynching (Stevenson, 2014, p. 27).
In 1967, the United States Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia ruled anti- miscegenation laws unconstitutional. Although this ruling seemed like a step in the right direction, restrictions to interracial relationships continued in some places in the U.S. (Stevenson, 2014, p. 29). People worldwide that are in interracial relationships today experience criticism and racial discrimination, but in the U.S., this stems from the failure to address the fears of interracial relationships that were formed in the past.
Reasons for Negative Perceptions of Interracial Relationships
While people’s reasonings for having negative perceptions of interracial relationships today may no longer be associated directly with the fears that came to be immediately following the abolition of slavery, new fears and criticisms have evolved over the course of history. A variety of different reasons contribute to why people have negative perceptions of interracial relationships, but implicit racial bias is the most impactful contributor, since it is unconscious thought. This means people do not realize that they think or act certain ways toward people because they are not cognizant of those thoughts or actions. The unconscious thoughts and actions dictated by implicit racial bias sometimes cause people to react to seeing interracial relationships negatively without them realizing they are exhibiting discriminatory behavior.
Some people who are made aware of their implicit racial bias believe it is not worth trying to change because it feels as though it is a hidden aspect of their minds that cannot be manipulated. This discourages some people from changing their negative perceptions of interracial relationships that are products of implicit racial bias. Since implicit bias is known to determine immediate behavior without people’s awareness, people feel that implicit bias cannot be changed and that trying to fix unconscious behavior is too challenging. However, implicit racial bias against interracial relationships can be reduced through prejudice habit-breaking interventions, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and by thinking of implicit bias as a behavioral phenomenon.
Types of Racial Pairings and Differing Cultural Perspectives
Much interracial relationship research has been focused on Black/White interracial pairings as well as Black and White responses to interracial relationships, assumingly because of the obvious racial conflicts and division between White and Black people that have been present
throughout history. According to Lewandowski and Jackson (2001), racial pairings of Black men and White women are the “most despised,” largely due to history, in which they have been perceived as the “most repugnant of all interracial unions.” It has been verified though that interracial relationships involving one person that is Black is perceived more negatively than other race pairings, like Asian/White (Herman and Campbell, 2012, p. 355).
Differing cultural perspectives cause people to form critical views of interracial relationships. Perceptions White people withhold are different than those withheld by Black people based on the ways each race has been treated societally and systemically in history. The White race has long been treated as the dominant race to which all other races are compared. Generally, the lighter a minority group’s or person’s skin tone, the better they are viewed and treated by society as a whole, and the darker the skin tone, the worse they are viewed and treated, meaning Black people are the most marginalized and oppressed.
White people tend to be hesitant to comment when confronted with conversations about race or interracial relationships out of fear of being viewed as racist (Childs, 2008, p. 2774). When some of them do express their opinions, they say they do not have a problem with interracial relationships, yet they provide reasons as to why they think such relationships should not take place or why they do not function well: different cultures and upbringings, lack of physical attraction, lack of familial acceptance, societal responses, have no common interests, and general difficulty of being with someone of a different race (Childs, 2008, p. 2776). Some White people also approach race- and interracial relationship-based conversations with the attitude that they do not see color, representative of a “colorblind” perception (Childs, 2008, p. 2774). While this may seem like a respectful approach to addressing race related issues and their feelings about interracial relationships, it disregards the sole reason that many people are mistreated (skin color), and it can be seen as a representation of ignorance or a lack of understanding or concern for those who are racially oppressed.
While White people’s perceptions of interracial relationships show signs of the privilege and the lack of understanding they possess regarding racial issues, Black people’s perceptions are reflective of the racial discrimination and oppression they face. Based on interviews she conducted, Childs (2008) found that Black people openly stated that they have problems with interracial relationships, yet they accepted and loved many of the family and friends they had that engaged in such relationships. In contrast to White people, who would rather not speak about racial and interracial issues, the Black people Childs (2008) interviewed had already had conversations with others about their feelings and concerns relating to interracial relationships, which showed the differing levels of comfortability the two races had with speaking openly about the controversial topic of racial discrimination.
Some Black people feel that when Black people engage in interracial relationships, especially with White people, they are “turning their backs on the [Black] community” and showing a “devaluation of blackness” (Childs, 2008, p. 2780). Since Black people are so heavily oppressed and have been for centuries, it seems as if being in a relationship with someone of another race is seen as offensive to other members of the Black community, like they are not seen as good enough to members of their own race. The feelings some Black people already have, such as feeling a lack of societal belonging or acceptance, likely causes them to already feel as though they are not “good enough,” so interracial relationships can probably be hurtful to see from a racially oppressed point of view.
Some Black people also express concerns about the way Black community members could be treated by White partners based on the racial tension that generally exists between Black and White people. Childs (2008) gathered from her interview of Black people that they feared possible partner mistreatment by White people in that it is possible that a “[W]hite individual would use a racial slur, disrespect the Black partner, and simply not understand what it means to be ‘[B]lack in America.’” The baggage and suffering associated with the racial discrimination Black people face along with the lack of understanding and concern for those of color by White people are glaring cultural reasons why some people have negative perceptions of interracial relationships.
Social Distance from People of Other Races, Stages of Relationships, and Preference
The amount of interaction people have with people (social distance) of other races contributes to whether they would engage in an interracial relationship themselves. Herman and Campbell (2012) determined from their study that while many people expressed being open to being in interracial relationships, most had never actually been in one before. Although they were unable to verify that this is due to a preference for homogamous relationships, the evidence they gathered suggested such. They were able to confirm other preferences though on the basis of the intersection between gender and race. The results of the study proved that White men were more open than White women to interracial relationships (Herman and Campbell, 2012, p. 352).
There are different stages that people reach in relationships, ranging in levels of seriousness. Herman and Campbell (2012) measured White people’s willingness to engage in interracial relationships at the levels of dating, cohabitation, marriage, and childbearing. They found that as the level of seriousness in the relationship increased, the level of willingness to engage in an interracial relationship decreased. This showed that as the social distance from and interaction with other races decreased, people became more uncomfortable with the thought of interracial relationships. White people’s lack of willingness to get relationally close to people of other races, even at the lowest level of seriousness demonstrates homogamous relationship preference amongst White people and racial prejudice toward people of other races.
Influence of Varying Access to Resources
The levels at which people have access to resources affects their acceptance and perceptions of interracial relationships. Some of these resources include well-paying jobs (income status/financial stability) and access to education. In a study done by Garcia et al. (2015), they found that education level was a significant contributor to people’s perspectives: people who received more years of education were more accepting of interracial relationships. They also found that people with higher income statuses were less racially prejudice and more accepting of interracial relationships (Garcia et al., p. 214). Education level is typically correlated to income status. Most times, but not always, people with higher levels of education have the ability to get higher paying jobs, which grant them higher income statuses than people who have not received as many years of education.
There is a saying that knowledge is power. Due to lack of education, people’s ignorance about accurate accounts of what happened racially in history, ignorance of the biology of the human species, and ignorance of the value of learning about different cultures likely all contribute to their racial prejudice and lack of acceptance of interracial relationships.
Implicit Racial Bias
Many of the previously mentioned reasons for negative perceptions of interracial relationships have been formed by people because of one major reason: implicit racial bias. Implicit biases are biases people possess, which they are unaware of, that dictate their automatic responses to certain types of situations, such as racially discriminatory ones (Fabbro et al., 2017, p. 2). For example, if someone sees an interracial couple while in public and immediately responds with critical stares and facial expressions, their implicit racial bias may have dictated those automatic responses without the person even realizing they reacted in those ways.
In a study of implicit bias against interracial relationships, Skinner and Rae (2019) concluded that there was evidence of implicit bias against interracial relationships amongst White and Black people, especially those who had not been romantically involved in interracial relationships before. People who had been involved in interracial relationships in the past, had contact with interracial couples, and had exposure to interracial relationships (multiracial people) had lower levels of implicit bias against interracial relationships (Skinner and Rae, 2019, pp. 828-829). As stated previously, people who remain socially distant from people of other races, and in this case, distant from interracial relationship experiences and interactions, the more implicit racial bias they possess and the less accepting of interracial relationships they tend to be. These negative attitudes can be changed by increasing people’s awareness of their implicit racial bias and motivating them to want to reduce their unconsciously induced behavior.
Methods of Implicit Racial Bias Reduction
Prejudice Habit-Breaking Interventions
A prejudice habit-breaking intervention was a successful approach used by Devine et al. (2012) to decrease implicit racial bias in a study they conducted. A key aspect of this intervention, which consisted of all non-Black participants, was to educate people on implicit racial bias and train them on ways they could work to decrease those implicit biases.
In the educational portion of the intervention, implicit bias was viewed as a habit that should be broken. In an effort to heighten people’s awareness of their implicit racial biases, the participants were asked to complete a measure of implicit bias and received input on their level of bias. It was taught that implicit racial bias is connected to discriminatory actions, which was intended to increase participants’ concerns about their personal implicit biases as well as general concerns (Devine et al., 2012, p. 3). As a result of the educational portion of the intervention, participants’ concerns about “discrimination and prejudice-level discrepancies” did in fact increase, as well as their awareness of their own implicit racial biases (Devine et al., 2011, p. 11).
Since people are typically unaware of the implicit racial bias they have toward interracial relationships, a prejudice habit-breaking intervention could be formulated specifically to measure implicit bias against interracial relationships to educate people on the discriminatory actions that happen as a result of their implicit racial biases toward people in interracial relationships. This educational component could increase people’s concern about discrimination against interracial relationships and increase their awareness of their own implicit biases against interracial relationships. This new knowledge could then evoke a desire and a motivation in people to want to change their implicit biases that are discriminatory toward people involved in interracial relationships.
Engagement in the self-regulatory process, encouraged through Devine et al.’s (2012) prejudice habit-breaking interventions, allows for people to reduce their implicit racial biases as well. The implicit bias training offered during the intervention showed people how to practice bias-reducing, self-regulatory strategies in daily life, which included stereotype replacement, counter-stereotypic imaging, individuation, perspective taking, and increasing opportunities for contact. Stereotypic imaging involves “replacing stereotypical responses for non-stereotypical responses” (Devine et al., 2012, p. 7). Counter-stereotype imaging includes imagining people who do not fit the stereotypes for their races. Individuation allows for avoidance of stereotypical assumptions about racial groups after gathering knowledge about such groups (Devine et al., 2012, p. 7). Perspective taking includes imagining oneself as a member of a stereotyped group, encouraging “psychological closeness to the stigmatized group” (Devine et al., 2012, p. 8). Increasing opportunities for contact refers to searching for ways to positively interact with people of stereotyped races (Devine et al., 2012, p. 8).
The participants in the study were able to regulate which strategies they used in an effort to decrease their implicit biases, and while the study was not able to verify which strategies had the largest impacts, Devine et al. (2012) found that their results suggest the strategies played a role in regulating implicit racial bias. In the proposed prejudice habit-breaking intervention to decrease implicit racial bias against interracial relationships, people could implement the strategies taught in implicit bias training to allow people to put themselves in the shoes of negatively perceived people in interracial relationships, and they could decrease the social distance between themselves and interracial relationships by interacting with them more.
Practicing Mindfulness and Meditation
Devoted practice of mindfulness and meditation can reduce implicit racial bias against interracial relationships. Mindfulness and meditation allow for focused breathing and open- mindedness and are “practiced in order to cure physical, psychological, and spiritual suffering” (Fabbro et al., 2017, p. 2).
Mindfulness encourages “awareness of the body,” “observation of the mind,” and increased ability to recognize one’s own mistakes (Fabbro et al., 2017, p. 2). Increased awareness of the body in situations contributes to this increased recognition of mistakes. This could be beneficial in relation to reducing implicit racial bias against interracial relationships. In situations where people’s implicit racial bias causes them to automatically physically react to interracial relationships (i.e. critically stare), consistent mindfulness practices can help them to learn through body awareness to recognize when they react those ways. After becoming more aware of this implicitly induced behavior, people can work to reduce it by practicing fixing their mistakes once they notice them, which in time should no longer automatically happen.
In Fabbro et al.’s (2017) review of various mindfulness meditation studies done in correlation to implicit bias, many of the studies suggested that mindfulness reduces the automatic responses to situations facilitated by implicit bias, including a study on loving-kindness meditation (LKM) done by Stell and Farsides (2016) that showed LKM helps people to develop positive other-regarding feelings toward people with whom they possess implicit bias. The reduction in automatic response happens because mindfulness encourages people to observe their minds for aspects of suffering, which would include containment of implicit racial bias in this case. Fabbro et al. (2017) explains that this process of “de-automatization” allows people to “behave in a more controlled and conscious manner.”
The ability to observe one’s mind in an extremely focused way can allow for people to develop awareness of unconscious thoughts and improve conscious behavior. This could be impactful in reducing implicit racial bias against interracial relationships because it brings people’s attention to their discriminatory thoughts and actions so that they can work on improving their psychological and physical behavior. Once people become consistent and serious practitioners of mindfulness and meditation, they can achieve very deep levels of both mind observation and body awareness. Their increased ability to recognize their own physically discriminatory behaviors could allow them to bring awareness to the unconscious thoughts that caused them to react negatively in the first place. Then, through their abilities to observe their minds on deep levels, they could work to recognize their psychological responses to seeing interracial relationships, and simultaneously, could work to catch, stop, and fix their implicitly induced physical reactions to seeing interracial relationships.
Implicit Bias as a Behavioral Phenomenon
Reduced implicit racial bias toward interracial relationships could be achieved through encouraging people to think of implicit bias as a behavioral phenomenon rather than by its traditional definition. This approach, proposed by De Houwer (2019), allows for personal identification of having implicit bias not to be taken as offensively. Since implicit bias is usually looked at as an unconscious mental structure, some people take offense to or reject the fact that they have implicit bias when told that they do.
De Houwer (2019) states that the behavioral understanding of implicit bias suggests that social cues direct behavior rather than unconscious thought, which is the opposite of what the traditional definition of implicit bias means. People may not get as offended by the fact that they have implicit racial bias toward interracial relationships if they are told that that bias is a result of the environment around them directing their behavior, rather than an unconscious aspect of their minds. People often question people’s mental state more harshly than what people do physically. This approach eliminates people’s questioning of the appropriateness of unconsciously induced actions (De Houwer, 2019, p. 837). This perspective of implicit bias allows people to be more aware of their racially discriminatory actions, which could help people to notice when they physically react in response to seeing interracial couples.
The view that implicit bias is a behavioral phenomenon could also motivate people to want to change their implicit racial bias. De Houwer (2019) mentions that seeing implicit bias as behavior can “heighten the belief that the problem of implicit bias can be remedied.” In correspondence with the traditional definition of implicit bias, it can be seen as extremely difficult to change a hidden aspect of one’s mind, so changing behavior seems more manageable for people to do. Therefore, seeing implicit bias as behavior may encourage more people to work on changing their implicit racial bias toward interracial relationships.
Since implicit bias is known to determine immediate behavior without people’s awareness, people feel that implicit bias cannot be changed and that trying to fix unconscious behavior is too challenging. However, implicit racial bias against interracial relationships can be reduced through prejudice habit-breaking interventions, practicing mindfulness and meditation, and by thinking of implicit bias as a behavioral phenomenon. Such methods are able to heighten people’s awareness of their implicit racial bias in different ways, which in turn provides opportunities for people to acknowledge their mistakes and encourage them to want to change their racially discriminatory behavior for their own benefit, but especially for people involved in interracial relationships who receive the criticism and judgements.
For these implicit racial bias-reducing methods to have significant impacts on the ways society perceives interracial relationships, attention must be brought to the possible levels of success they could achieve if made widely available to people who are willing to be elements of change in a world where the concept of race still divides people.
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