There might be a solution to implicit racial bias, argues Rhonda Magee: cultivating moment-to-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, and surroundings.
When I was promoted to tenured full professor, the dean of my law school kindly had flowers sent to me at my home in Pacific Heights, an overpriced San Francisco neighborhood almost devoid of black residents. I opened the door to find a tall, young, African-American deliveryman who announced, “Delivery for Professor Magee.” I, a petite black woman, dressed for a simple Saturday spent in my own home, reached for the flowers saying, “I am Professor Magee.”
The deliveryman looked down at the order and back up at me. Apparently shaken from the hidden ground of his preconceptions, he looked at me again. Incredulous, he asked, “Are you sure?”
Let me be clear. I’ll never know what exactly it was that caused the deliveryman to conclude, on seeing me, that I must not actually be the person to whom the flowers were to be delivered. I am not privy to what was going on inside his head. But it seems inescapable that his confusion had something to do with features of my social identity that had, for him, been coded instantly, if not unconsciously, as inconsistent with the identity of “professor” and “resident” of a home in an upscale neighborhood.