Prejudice and Discrimination- Unconscious Biases


In February 1998, four New York City police officers were on patrol in the Bronx, when they saw a young black man standing on a stoop. They thought he looked suspicious. When they pooled over, he retreated into the doorway and began digging in his pocket. He kept digging as the police shouted at him to show his hands. A few seconds later, the man, Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea, was dead, hit by 19 of the 41 bullets that the police fires at him. What Diallo was reaching for was his wallet. He was going for his I.D. as he stood on the steps of his own apartment building.

Diallo’s story and the officer’s fatal pre-judgment of him, is recounted in Malcom Gladwell’s 2005 bestseller Blink. Gladwell, and the social psychologists whose work he draws upon, explores Diallo’s case as an example of that grey are between deliberate violence and an accident, propagated by non-conscious or implicit biases. The officers did discriminate against Diallo, but the prejudice they acted on may have been driven by something more subtle than simple hatred. Think about it!

Let’s focus more on the insidious, non-conscious automatic bias, and how it can affect our behavior. The fact is that our implicit biases affect the way we relate to others in a very real way. Our race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation can make the difference between whether we get a job or not, a fair paycheck, or a good rental, or whether we get randomly killed for getting our wallet.

Social psychologists examine how we think about and how we influence one another but also how we relate to one another. What factors might cause us to help another person or harm them or fear them? What are the social, cognitive and emotional roots of prejudice racism and sexism, and how they shape our society?

It is important to make a distinction between prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination even though the three phenomena are related one to each other. People may distrust a female mechanic. That’s a prejudicial attitude, but it’s rooted in a stereotype- a generalized belief about a particular group. But stereotypes are not always a bag thing; sometimes they may be very accurate. When a stereotypical beliefs combine with prejudicial attitudes and emotions, like fear or hatred, drive the behavior we call discrimination. Prejudice is an attitude and discrimination refers to behavior.

Prejudice can be non-conscious and automatic. And I mean it can be so non-conscious that even when people ask us straight forward about our attitudes, we unwillingly or unknowingly don’t always give them an honest answer. What’s the first answer that pops out? Are Muslims more violent than Christians? Are overweight people unhealthy? Are Chinese people better at math? What is happening here is called – Implicit association. Subconsciously we make connections between youth and healthiness, some past data is deeply impregnated in our conscious and sometimes it can led to a prejudicial behavior.

If you want to measure you unconscious bias, take the Project Implicit’s Hidden Bias Test, listed right bellow.

Alexandrina Bivol





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