So How Would Mandatory ‘Implicit Bias’ Testing and Training Work, Exactly?

Before another Starbucks disaster occurs, one group says companies should ward off problems

Is “implicit bias testing and training” really the right approach to improving race relations in this country — and how does it work, anyway?

These were the questions from Fox News host Laura Ingraham that kicked off a lively segment of “The Ingraham Angle” on Wednesday night — with the Starbucks controversy of past month in mind.

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said on Tuesday, “Implicit bias training should be the norm, not just a crisis response strategy,” in a media advisory published by the organization. An extended op-ed outlining Johnson’s point of view appeared in USA Today.

Michael Starr Hopkins and Kevin Jackson discussed the recommendation and its implications with Ingraham on Wednesday night.

“Implicit bias” is an issue “that has historical connotations,” said Hopkins, an attorney, Democratic strategist, and a contributing writer for The Hill. “We can either choose to run away from it, or we can choose to address it.”

So “even if you don’t demonstrate any active bias in what you do or say, you could feel those things,” said Ingraham, proffering an explanation of implicit bias. “Is that right?”

Hopkins agreed — and noted it can sound “ridiculous on its face.” He gave an example of how bias could assert itself in hiring situations. If a hiring manager saw a name on a résumé associated with a race he or she implicitly feared, for example, that manager might pass over that résumé in favor of another résumé that might seem more “comfortable” for the person.

Related: Starbucks Incident Has People in a Frothy Fury

But best-selling author and radio-show host Kevin Jackson took issue with all of this: “Anybody that’s going to teach about bias or white privilege or some other nonsense … [they] are nothing but leftists who are the most divisive people in this country. Americans are sick of them,” he said.

“This is an industry. It’s a moneymaking, multi-trillion-dollar industry that I wrote a book about, called ‘Race-Pimping.’ This ‘[implicit] bias’ is nonsense,” he added.

Wrote Derrick Johnson in his op-ed, “It’s just a matter of time before another black person is abused, arrested, or shot dead for flying, golfing, driving, walking or drinking coffee ‘while black.'” He suggested that to avoid this, implicit bias testing and training should be mandatory for public officials and those “receiving public dollars.”

Scientific testing has revealed that implicit bias training has no prophylactic effect on behavior at all.

There’s a problem, though: Scientific testing has revealed that implicit bias training has no prophylactic effect on behavior at all. In theory, implicit bias tests measure the extent to which a person harbors unconscious racist thoughts and attitudes. The idea is that by becoming aware of these unknown biases, people will behave in a more egalitarian manner. The most widely used implicit bias test is Harvard’s Implicit Bias Test (IAT); that’s the same test Johnson suggested in the NAACP media advisory and op-ed.

Yet this doesn’t pan out. A 2017 meta-analysis (a study that mathematically analyzes the collective results of past studies) revealed that such training has no effect on actual behavior. The test also does not meaningfully predict behavior. A 2016 meta-analysis concluded, “There is also little evidence that the IAT can meaningfully predict discrimination, and we thus strongly caution against any practical applications of the IAT that rest on this assumption.”

Until researchers can determine what exactly it is they’re measuring with the IAT and what that measurement predicts in real life, it’s best to keep it in the lab — instead of turning government and private employees into lab rats.

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to LifeZette.