Explicit Bias

Implicit bias is the bias that people hold that they may not be aware of, but that can have an impact on the way they treat people on a day to day basis. Implicit bias is the stereotypes and prejudices that are outside of our conscious awareness but still influence the way that we think. Often times, implicit biases coincide with deeply institutionalized prejudices and are passed down through familial or societal ties. The notion of implicit bias deserves attention, especially as it relates to those professions that involve the need for cultural responsiveness. After reading the fifth pillar of The Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing, I was able to reflect on how implicit bias can function in police forces and what this means for officers’ abilities to conduct their jobs.

In The Task Force Report, the fifth pillar concerns training and education and contains the recommendation that training should “incorporate content around recognizing and confronting implicit bias and cultural responsiveness.” A focus on understanding other cultures and being tolerant to differences is necessary for police officers so that they can recognize the unique needs of communities that may be different than their own. It is not sufficient that there only be exposure, because contact with minorities has still come at the same time as disproportionate numbers of arrests and police misconduct against people of color. However, the way to do this may not necessarily be by targeting implicit biases, but rather by targeting explicit biases. Explicit biases are more harmful because they are the manifestation of implicit biases; they are outward forms of prejudices. When police officers act on their implicit biases, discriminatory practices ensue and there is no feeling of trust between officers and the discriminated against communities that they police.

In order to build trust and legitimacy in communities where there currently is none, there must be more of a focus on dispelling explicit biases rather than implicit ones. The hope would be that practices of understanding and tolerance would contribute to changing inner biases. Inner prejudices are harder to change, for the primary reason that people do not even know that they have them. These inner, deep set sentiments would be much more difficult to alter than would acts of discrimination. The Task Force Report should have given more focus on the ways that explicit biases can be confronted. Even when acknowledging implicit biases, the Report is vague in its language for exactly how they should be addressed. Using police training and education to change behaviors would be more substantial and direct in addressing the fear and lack of confidence that minority communities feel towards police.

One thought on “Explicit Bias

  • May 5, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    I think that the last few years have revealed that the focus on implicit bias is problematic. The underlying premise of the implicit bias literature is that explicit bias has been largely eradicated. But this simply isn’t true! So undoubtedly advocates must challenge explicit bias first.


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