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Recognizing Hidden Racism’s Grip on Our Society

I have a slight preference for white persons over black persons.

That’s not a confession; it’s a diagnosis.

According to the online Implicit Association Test, which measures the unconscious biases associated with persons of various races and ethnicities, I have an unconscious preference for white persons over black and brown persons.

In other words, I am more likely to associate white people with positive attributes like goodness and beauty than I am black people.

That’s really interesting because though I myself am white, I have been married to a good and very beautiful black woman for 13 years.

And, also interesting, even if I were black, I would still be more likely to have a moderate preference toward white people than blacks.

And that’s at least partially how racism works. Racism is bias plus power. And its influence is often subconscious and hidden and therefore very difficult to dismantle or even recognize.

But it’s in the numbers. For example:

  • A 2012 study by the Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded well-qualified African-American homeseekers are regularly shown fewer apartments to rent and houses for sale than are their white peers.
  • A 2014 paper by researchers from the Columbia, New York University and University of Pennsylvania schools of business found that faculty members were more likely to respond to prospective student inquiries from persons with traditionally Caucasian male names.
  • A 2015 American Association for Cancer Research study found that African Americans and Hispanic whites were 30 percent to 40 percent more likely to receive non-guideline-concordant treatment for breast cancer overall than their white counterparts.

The list goes on and on. But one statistic may be the most telling of all: According to the Death Penalty Information Center, since 1976 only half of all murder victims were white while three-quarters of the victims in all death penalty cases were white.

While most of us would agree all lives matter, the statistics tell us white lives matter more.

That’s a hard truth for white people to hear. It is for me.

When I hear the word racism, my first inclination is to think of the KKK or Bull Connor’s dogs keeping blacks from eating at a cafeteria downtown.

I think overt, prima facie racism and racists. And, no doubt, we have to remain vigilant against overt racists who seem to be reinvigorated in our country.

But Paul says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,” but “against the powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6:12).

Racism is a power; and part of its hold on us as a society is its hiddenness. Racism now does most of its work clandestinely.

It is a doctor unconsciously diagnosing and treating black patients differently from white patients even when they demonstrate the same symptoms. It’s astonishing how much racism can get done under cover. And its effects can be a matter of life and death.

My wife and I are raising two biracial boys, which means I’m having conversations with them about race and law enforcement that my parents never had to have with me.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 was a watershed moment for me, as I pray it will one day be seen as for our country.

It was at that moment that I realized that somebody thinking they are protecting the neighborhood could in fact be carrying out the gravest miscarriage of justice a person can inflict upon another – homicide.

And for what cause? Because the 17-year-old boy was wearing a hoodie, which apparently made him suspicious.

President Obama said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” I have two sons; when they’re 17 and wearing a hoodie, I’m sure they will look like Trayvon.

What’s the answer? Bias is natural and its human and we can no more escape it than we can escape the sin of Adam. So, we have to become more aware of it.

And there is good data that suggests awareness of our bias does in fact change our behavior.

Training and retraining are important. And that means we’re going to have to keep talking about race even when we’re sick and tired of hearing about it.

Racism isn’t going anywhere. It’s lurking at our door and its desire is to consume us – to consume people of color. Vigilance is necessary.

I often tell people, I live in a fully integrated bedroom, but I’m still not over all my race stuff. I’m still not over my bias.

Woe to all who think they are.

Ryon Price is senior pastor of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter @RyonPrice.

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series focused on racism and the local church.

Another article in the series is:

When Will Churches Begin to Reflect Racial Diversity? By Timothy Peoples