Implicit Bias: Why Race is Hard Even when People are Good*

Scholar john powell succinctly defines implicit bias as “a habit of the mind.” He explains that our brains have a natural tendency to form associations (for example, we might see a tall person and think “basketball player”) in order to make sense of the 5,000 or so images with which we are bombarded each day. This process happens rapidly at an unconscious level and helps us to navigate the world. However, concerns arise when our brains form associations between race and negative traits. For example, in one recent study, researchers concluded that participants held implicit associations between “Black” and “guilty,” and that such associations predicted how they would evaluate ambiguous evidence. A growing body of scholarship, discussed in the School of Government manual Raising Issues of Race in North Carolina Criminal Cases (see Section 1.3D in particular), suggests that such unconscious associations affect the perceptions and decisions of court actors, and may contribute to disparate treatment and outcomes in the criminal justice system.

Read more