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Race on the Brain: What Implicit Bias Gets Wrong about the Struggle for Racial Justice

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Of the many obstacles to racial justice in America, none has received more recent attention than the one that lurks in our subconscious. As social movements and policing scandals have shown how far from being "postracial" we are, the concept of implicit bias has taken center stage in the national conversation about race. Millions of Americans have taken online tests purpor Of the many obstacles to racial justice in America, none has received more recent attention than the one that lurks in our subconscious. As social movements and policing scandals have shown how far from being "postracial" we are, the concept of implicit bias has taken center stage in the national conversation about race. Millions of Americans have taken online tests purporting to show the deep, invisible roots of their own prejudice. A recent Oxford study that claims to have found a drug that reduces implicit bias is only the starkest example of a pervasive trend. But what do we risk when we seek the simplicity of a technological diagnosis--and solution--for racism? What do we miss when we locate racism in our biology and our brains rather than in our history and our social practices? In Race on the Brain, Jonathan Kahn argues that implicit bias has grown into a master narrative of race relations--one with profound, if unintended, negative consequences for law, science, and society. He emphasizes its limitations, arguing that while useful as a tool to understand particular types of behavior, it is only one among several tools available to policy makers. An uncritical embrace of implicit bias, to the exclusion of power relations and structural racism, undermines wider civic responsibility for addressing the problem by turning it over to experts. Technological interventions, including many tests for implicit bias, are premised on a color-blind ideal and run the risk of erasing history, denying present reality, and obscuring accountability. Kahn recognizes the significance of implicit social cognition but cautions against seeing it as a panacea for addressing America's longstanding racial problems. A bracing corrective to what has become a common-sense understanding of the power of prejudice, Race on the Brain challenges us all to engage more thoughtfully and more democratically in the difficult task of promoting racial justice.


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Of the many obstacles to racial justice in America, none has received more recent attention than the one that lurks in our subconscious. As social movements and policing scandals have shown how far from being "postracial" we are, the concept of implicit bias has taken center stage in the national conversation about race. Millions of Americans have taken online tests purpor Of the many obstacles to racial justice in America, none has received more recent attention than the one that lurks in our subconscious. As social movements and policing scandals have shown how far from being "postracial" we are, the concept of implicit bias has taken center stage in the national conversation about race. Millions of Americans have taken online tests purporting to show the deep, invisible roots of their own prejudice. A recent Oxford study that claims to have found a drug that reduces implicit bias is only the starkest example of a pervasive trend. But what do we risk when we seek the simplicity of a technological diagnosis--and solution--for racism? What do we miss when we locate racism in our biology and our brains rather than in our history and our social practices? In Race on the Brain, Jonathan Kahn argues that implicit bias has grown into a master narrative of race relations--one with profound, if unintended, negative consequences for law, science, and society. He emphasizes its limitations, arguing that while useful as a tool to understand particular types of behavior, it is only one among several tools available to policy makers. An uncritical embrace of implicit bias, to the exclusion of power relations and structural racism, undermines wider civic responsibility for addressing the problem by turning it over to experts. Technological interventions, including many tests for implicit bias, are premised on a color-blind ideal and run the risk of erasing history, denying present reality, and obscuring accountability. Kahn recognizes the significance of implicit social cognition but cautions against seeing it as a panacea for addressing America's longstanding racial problems. A bracing corrective to what has become a common-sense understanding of the power of prejudice, Race on the Brain challenges us all to engage more thoughtfully and more democratically in the difficult task of promoting racial justice.

45 review for Race on the Brain: What Implicit Bias Gets Wrong about the Struggle for Racial Justice

  1. 4 out of 5

    Camille McCarthy

    I give this book four stars for ideas and three stars for writing. The author is very clear about why it is dangerous to put all your social justice eggs in the basked of implicit bias, and goes into extreme detail about all the different troubling implications for law, fighting racism, and society. However, he writes this book as if it were a scientific paper or a master's thesis and as a result it is difficult to get through. While we all have implicit bias and it can be helpful for people t I give this book four stars for ideas and three stars for writing. The author is very clear about why it is dangerous to put all your social justice eggs in the basked of implicit bias, and goes into extreme detail about all the different troubling implications for law, fighting racism, and society. However, he writes this book as if it were a scientific paper or a master's thesis and as a result it is difficult to get through. While we all have implicit bias and it can be helpful for people to be aware of their biases, fixing implicit bias will not fix the structural racism inherent in America today. Having a goal of color-blindness might even worsen the effects of racism, as it erases the idea that people are being mistreated because of racism and erases the history of race in America. He talks about implicit bias proponents ascribing to conservative ideas and why this is dangerous. He also brings up how it is dangerous to expect a scientific or technological solution to a social problem, as if peoples' racist attitudes were a disease (and therefore something they have no control over) and not a side-effect of a system that has upheld racism for centuries. It also makes it look like fighting racism is easy and that as long as we train police and courts in implicit bias, we are effectively diminishing the effects of race on people caught in the judicial system. Also, targeting implicit bias in individuals is much cheaper to do than actually dismantling the racist systems and programs like the War on Drugs. The book is a must-read for social justice advocates and for ordinary people, especially those who think implicit bias training is some kind of magic bullet that will cure racism. If you can't get through the whole book because of his technical form of writing, it might be good to just read the introduction, the introduction to each chapter, and the conclusion, which will give you a good idea of his arguments. I am glad Jonathan Kahn wrote this book and I appreciate the work he put into thoroughly researching and formulating these arguments.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chanda Prescod-weinstein

    The book has its imperfections but overall IT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE ALL NEED TO READ RIGHT NOW ALL CAPS.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erin Becker

    Whew. I'm going to have to chew on this one for a while. I really appreciated a lot of elements in this book, primarily those questioning the emphasis of implicit bias researchers on localizing racism as something that happens in the brain and is devoid of historical and societal context. I struggled with the author's criticism of science, but appreciated his perspective on the potential harms of privatizing antiracism and putting what should be social justice work into the hands of people who a Whew. I'm going to have to chew on this one for a while. I really appreciated a lot of elements in this book, primarily those questioning the emphasis of implicit bias researchers on localizing racism as something that happens in the brain and is devoid of historical and societal context. I struggled with the author's criticism of science, but appreciated his perspective on the potential harms of privatizing antiracism and putting what should be social justice work into the hands of people who are not accountable to the public and focused on profitmaking. This book has certainly given me a lot to think about and will influence how I think about teaching about bias.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Viral

    An important, if dense and academic, text on how implicit bias can be a useful framework but can lead to misdirection on how to deal with sociolegal issues regarding racial discrimination. Kahn is a law professor, and this book is definitely geared to a more legal audience than a scientific one, but he shows how implicit bias will not assist those who wish to use the law to combat instances of discrimination, AND also leads to people missing how broader systems of institutional oppression lead t An important, if dense and academic, text on how implicit bias can be a useful framework but can lead to misdirection on how to deal with sociolegal issues regarding racial discrimination. Kahn is a law professor, and this book is definitely geared to a more legal audience than a scientific one, but he shows how implicit bias will not assist those who wish to use the law to combat instances of discrimination, AND also leads to people missing how broader systems of institutional oppression lead to racist ideas. Heavy on diagnosis, light on prescriptions, but overall an interesting and valuable read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jackie G

    The ideas in this book are important -- we can't simply solve racism by looking at individual unconscious biases. The structural, societal, and historically rooted injustices that have resulted in stripping minorities of their dignity for hundreds of years have to be openly acknowledged and addressed. I just had a hard time getting through the book's dense, overly academic prose -- had to reread many sentences and sections a few times to be sure I understood the main point. This is a minor criti The ideas in this book are important -- we can't simply solve racism by looking at individual unconscious biases. The structural, societal, and historically rooted injustices that have resulted in stripping minorities of their dignity for hundreds of years have to be openly acknowledged and addressed. I just had a hard time getting through the book's dense, overly academic prose -- had to reread many sentences and sections a few times to be sure I understood the main point. This is a minor criticism given the nature of the subject matter.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Scott Milam

    Lots to think about, lots of great research, and the writing was intensely difficult. The primary thesis is something I am guilty of and will need some time to reflect and improve on.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cam

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    Alejandro

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    Dayspring

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dipesh

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    Carl Steidel

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    Andrea

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    lil bill

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    Morgan

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    AJ Lapre

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    Allie

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