The Culture Inside
June 8, 2017 6:11 PM ET
Public Broadcasting System
Alix Spiegel, HOST:

This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Alix Spiegel.

HANNA ROSIN, HOST: And I'm Hanna Rosin.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I don't know if you talk with your hands or anything, but...

ROSIN: Hello?



SPIEGEL: Hi, sorry.

ROSIN: Recently, Alix and I called up a woman named Karen Byrne. In her late 20s, Karen had gotten this very serious operation. The operation was to treat her epilepsy, which had gotten so bad that she was having near constant seizures.

So her doctors put her to sleep, cut into her brain. And when she woke up, her speech was a little funny. But basically, Karen says, she was feeling fine.

BYRNE: I had woken up. And I was sitting in the hospital bed talking to my surgeon. And...

ROSIN: And then all of a sudden, her left hand picked itself up, started moving towards her shirt and delicately unbuttoning the buttons one by one while her surgeon was standing right there.

BYRNE: My hand was taking my clothes off.

ROSIN: Taking your clothes off?

BYRNE: Yeah. My hand was taking my shirt off (laughter).


ROSIN: And you didn't have any thought like, I'd like to take my blouse off now?

BYRNE: No, no, no, no. I just started to do it.

ROSIN: Karen, of course, was completely shocked and so was her surgeon.

BYRNE: My surgeon was like, Karen, do you realize what's happening? I said, yeah, something's wrong.


ROSIN: And then, all of a sudden, the hand seemed to get angry.

BYRNE: It was tearing the buttons off the shirt.

ROSIN: Karen kept telling it to stop.

BYRNE: Knock it off. Knock it off. Knock it off.

ROSIN: Her surgeon was screaming at her to control it.

BYRNE: Try to make it stop. I said, I can't. It won't stop. And then I started to cry. I just didn't know what to do.

SPIEGEL: Now, eventually, they wrestled her hand down. But what was so strange about it was that it didn't seem like a physical spasm. The hand acted like it had intent.

Did the hand seem to have...

BYRNE: A different mind?


BYRNE: Yes, yes, yes, yes. It did seem to have a different mind.

SPIEGEL: When Karen went home from the hospital, the hand - this new hand with a mind of its own - went with her. A lot of the time, the hand was OK. But sometimes, it would get really upset with her. Whenever Karen did something it didn't like...

BYRNE: It smacked me right across my face.

ROSIN: Your own hand?

BYRNE: Yeah, right across my face, right across our face.

SPIEGEL: Sometimes it would hit her so hard it left her black and blue.

BYRNE: Yeah.

SPIEGEL: Her problem, the doctors explained, was something called alien hand syndrome. See, to cure her epilepsy, they'd had to separate the two halves of her brain.

BYRNE: Brain was split in half.

SPIEGEL: They'd cut right down the center between the two hemispheres through this wide, flat bundle of neural fiber with one of those very brainy-sounding names.

BYRNE: Corpus callosum, yeah.

SPIEGEL: It's like the thing that gets the two halves to speak to each other?

BYRNE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

SPIEGEL: So without her corpus callosum, her right hemisphere and her left weren't communicating perfectly well. Her right hand seemed to be getting directions primarily from her left hemisphere. And her left hand, this new alien hand, seemed to be getting directions primarily from her right hemisphere. And so what Karen got to see more clearly than most of us was that there really were very different parts of her.

BYRNE: For some reason, my own hand felt some animosity towards me.

SPIEGEL: Or not her hand, really, her brain - or half her brain.

BYRNE: Half my brain just didn't particularly care for me too much. I wasn't pleasing it.

SPIEGEL: And at first, Karen couldn't make sense of what that half was about, why it was getting so angry. But as time went on, she saw a distinct pattern and came up with a theory of what that part of her self wanted. Now, this is not science, just how Karen sees it. She says she thinks her hand wants her to be more moral.

BYRNE: It's trying to make me a better person.

SPIEGEL: Basically, the hand was enforcing all the messages that she'd picked up from her culture about what she should be.

BYRNE: Not to smoke and not to curse and being nicer to others.

SPIEGEL: So whenever Karen deviated from these cultural norms, it would punish her. When Karen cursed, her hand would slap her. Or take, for example, what her hand does when she tries to smoke.

BYRNE: When I go to light a cigarette, the hand will either put the cigarette out or flick the ashes around.

SPIEGEL: Karen hadn't realized how deeply those cultural messages had penetrated. And she wasn't that happy about it, either.

BYRNE: Oh, it's such a pain in the rear end, it really is. I understand you want me to quit, but cut the crap (laughter).


ROSIN: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: And I'm Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: INVISIBILIA is a show about all the invisible forces that shape human behavior - our thoughts, our emotions, our beliefs. And today, we have another episode in our concept album. We're calling this show The Culture Inside. It's about the concepts we absorb from our culture, how they affect us and the people around us.

SPIEGEL: Stick around.


ROSIN: So how much do ideas and the culture influence us and our behavior? And what can you do if you don't want one particular idea in your culture to affect you? These are the questions that Alix set out to answer. She crossed the country talking to dozens of people, but her story starts with one man in California.

SPIEGEL: Frank Somerville first encountered his other self on the corner of 25th and Broadway in downtown Oakland. Frank works at the local Fox News station. The anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. newscasts. And in between shifts, he'll sometimes exercise at the small gym down the street. So it was night around, 8 p.m.

FRANK SOMERVILLE: I walked out of the gym. And I looked across the street. And there was this white woman sitting at a bus stop, just maybe a middle-aged white woman. And I saw this black guy walking up the street in the direction of the bus stop.

SPIEGEL: It immediately struck Frank that there was something suspicious about the man.

SOMERVILLE: You know, I think he had a cap pulled down on his head and just dressed kind of like street-ish.

SPIEGEL: And so Frank paused.

SOMERVILLE: You know what? I'm just going to watch for a second just to make sure that everything's OK. I'm just going to watch just in case.

SPIEGEL: Frank sees himself as a good Samaritan type, the kind of guy who would help if need arose. So he was ready, if the guy pulled anything, to act.

SOMERVILLE: And as he was walking out of my view, and then coming into my view was a little boy.

SPIEGEL: Frank remembers the balance of the little boy's step as he ran to catch up to his father, the happy jumpiness of it.

SOMERVILLE: And I realized, oh, my God, he's just a dad. And he's just a dad walking down the street just like me.

SPIEGEL: Frank was shocked.

SOMERVILLE: I just stood there disgusted with myself. I just couldn't believe that that just happened to, of all people, me. And I did that just a couple of weeks after telling my daughter that people might do that type of thing. I mean, what the hell?

SPIEGEL: You see, Frank Somerville, who's white, has a daughter who's black.

SOMERVILLE: We call her Callzie (ph), but her name's Callie.

SPIEGEL: A little girl he adopted at birth who's 12 now. She goes to a performing arts school near Frank's home.

SOMERVILLE: She is very creative, loves music, loves being the center of attention, just kind of loves life.

SPIEGEL: When Frank and his wife decided to adopt 12 years ago, they already had one daughter. But they had imagined a bigger family, and after struggling to get pregnant, told the adoption agency they were open to any child.

SOMERVILLE: Color didn't matter. It was we just wanted a child.

SPIEGEL: Frank grew up in Berkeley during the 1970s. And in the third grade, his school was integrated. All of the white kids were bused to this black school across town. And he says that at first it was really hard.

SOMERVILLE: But by Berkeley High, it was kind of cool because we all were accepted. And we were all friends.

SPIEGEL: This experience left Frank with the strong belief that racially we were moving forward in this country and he was part of that movement forward. Which brings us back to Callie.

SOMERVILLE: Callzie? What is it you want? OK. I love you. Bye. She always does this. She goes, Dad, finished my lunch and I'm still hungry. So could you bring me a hamburger, some curly fries? And could you bring me a milkshake? And then can you bring a couple of other milkshakes so I can give them to my friends?

SPIEGEL: Frank says throughout Callie's childhood, he and his wife didn't talk much about race. They didn't want to make it a huge issue.

SOMERVILLE: It just felt like bursting this innocent little beautiful girl's bubble. And I didn't want to do that.

SPIEGEL: And then came this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Eighteen-year-old Michael Brown died Saturday after a struggle with an officer.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Hands up. Don't shoot. Hands up. Don't shoot.

SOMERVILLE: There had been several deadly police shootings involving black men.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: For many, the shootings are proof of police bias.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: That is implicit bias.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: That bias is at the heart of the issues around policing - Mike Brown, the criminal justice system - that have unleashed protests all over the country.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: No justice. No peace. No justice.

SPIEGEL: And Frank felt that it was time to have the conversation that many parents of African-American kids have - to spell out to Kelly exactly how her race might affect her life.

SOMERVILLE: It's finally time. And so we called her into our living room, right where we're sitting right now.

SPIEGEL: They told her that because of her race, Kelly faced a danger that her white sister didn't, and that if she was ever pulled over by a police officer, she was to do exactly what he said. It wasn't fair, they told her. They knew it wasn't fair. It's just what happens sometimes when a white person encounters someone who's black. It just happens, even if you don't intend it.

SOMERVILLE: You know what? I'm just going to watch for a second just to make sure that everything's OK.

SPIEGEL: As it happened to Frank that night on the corner of 25th and Broadway.

SOMERVILLE: I'm just going to watch just in case.

SPIEGEL: And suddenly, it hit him.

SOMERVILLE: What the hell?

SPIEGEL: He, Frank Somerville, had just done the very thing he'd warned his daughter about. He judged based on skin color, the thing he feared would haunt his daughter's life, making her options smaller, her days less free. Inside him was a part of himself that he hadn't realized was there and that he definitely did not want. In some part of Frank, there was that thing that they'd been talking about on the news, implicit bias. It was hiding inside him.

SOMERVILLE: Now, I come to find out that, well, I've got a little. And so...

SPIEGEL: And so he had to fight it for Callie. Frank had to figure out a way to conquer his implicit bias.

SOMERVILLE: I am never, ever, ever going to do that again.

SPIEGEL: Frank told me that if he could, he'd rip the bias from his body even before his next breath. It was that disgusting to him. How do you think you would feel if your daughter found out about that moment that you had by the bus stop?

SOMERVILLE: I really don't know the answer to that. I would hope that she wouldn't be disappointed in me. I would hope that she wouldn't feel like I let her down. I don't know. I don't know how she'd feel. I just - I - that would just - I don't...


SPIEGEL: All of us have ideas in our head implanted by our culture, concepts big and small, the idea that a solo black man walking down the street at night might be a threat to a white woman...


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Acted in self-defense.

SPIEGEL: ...Or that the material of gold is more valuable than the material of silver, or that women are less aggressive than men. Most of these concepts just float around in our heads, shaping our actions, what we buy and who we affiliate with and what we do with our time without attracting much attention or getting in the way of who we want to be. But sometimes, sometimes the ideas we've absorbed don't sit so easy. They undermine the people that we're trying to be or run counter to the world we want to help build. This is a story about those concepts and whether it's possible, as Frank hopes, to one day rip them from our body.


SPIEGEL: The scientific quest to understand the concepts in our head around race hit a troubling snag back in the '70s when this very unexpected problem emerged in the area of prejudice research. The problem was questions - they weren't working anymore. See, for decades, the primary way psychologists had gone about the business of figuring out American attitudes about race was to ask questions.

TONY GREENWALD: The idea that you could ask people questions, get their answers to them and understand their behavior was dominant and unquestioned, basically.

SPIEGEL: This is psychologist Tony Greenwald, a professor at the University of Washington. Now, like everyone else at the time, Tony was using questions in his work. And like everyone else at the time, he'd noticed that according to all these survey questions, our country was making what seemed like incredible progress on race.

GREENWALD: Racial discrimination as reported on surveys declined greatly. Virtually everyone was saying that black and white should have equal opportunity.

SPIEGEL: Problem was when you actually tested those attitudes by looking at how people actually behaved in real world situations, a very different picture emerged.



DOVIDIO: Yeah, this is me.

SPIEGEL: Hi. How are you doing? This is Jack Dovidio, a psychologist at Yale University who did this really interesting study which proved that questions couldn't actually capture how people thought or behaved when it came to race. See, what Dovidio did was he first asked people questions about their racial attitudes, but then without those people knowing it, he exposed them to these faked accidents, staged car crashes that seemed real where they were asked to help either black people or white people. And he says the results were really clear.

DOVIDIO: People who said they were racist behaved in a pretty racist way. But people who said they were not racist, a good portion of them also behaved in a racist way. So there was a big inconsistency when people said they weren't prejudiced, their behavior would still show a pattern of old-fashioned forms of bias and discrimination.

SPIEGEL: Why? Now, one obvious explanation was that people weren't being honest with researchers, but psychologists suspected that there was something else at work, something they called impression management. Here's Tony Greenwald again.

GREENWALD: The idea of impression management is that what you're doing when you respond to these things is image management. You are presenting yourself in a way that will look attractive. But I am not saying that subjects were actually deliberately deceiving and lying when they were doing this but rather that what the research subjects were doing was thinking, well, who am I? I mean, the people are actually in the process of constructing this image to themselves.

SPIEGEL: When it came to prejudice, people themselves couldn't accurately report on who they were and what was influencing their behavior. Clearly, it was folly to keep asking questions. What researchers needed to do was invent a way to get at the other stuff in people's heads that was shaping them, their attitudes and behaviors. Psychologists needed to bring that stuff out of the shadows and onto a table where it could be analyzed and maybe even changed. In short, psychologists needed a new way to look inside us so they could see more clearly the concepts in our heads and precisely how they worked.

SOMERVILLE: You know what? I'm just going to watch for a second just to make sure that everything's OK. I'm just going to watch just in case.


ROSIN: INVISIBILIA will be right back.


ROSIN: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: And I'm Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: Today, we're looking at the concepts in our heads around race, the negative biases we don't like and whether we can change them. Now, people of color in America experience intentional bias, even malevolent bias all the time, but we're focusing on the implicit kind of bias. When we left off, psychologists like Tony Greenwald had set out to find a way to reveal these implicit concepts in our heads and how they worked. And that's where Alix picks up the story.

SPIEGEL: If you ran a likability contest between flowers and insects, there's not much doubt about which would win. Most people, with the possible exception of entomologists and Gosse, feel more warmly toward flowers than insects. Those attitudes towards those particular categories are pretty well fixed because insects are gross, which is why you don't have them delivered on Valentine's Day. Tony Greenwald, a discerning 52-year-old psychologist whose happy marriage had survived 27 Valentine's Days, was absolutely certain this was true.

GREENWALD: I know that flowers are more pleasant than insects.

SPIEGEL: Which is why one day in the fall of 1994, when he sat down in his lab at the University of Washington to create a test that would find a new way to measure our attitudes about the world, it was a long list of flower and insect names that he began to program into his computer.

GREENWALD: Rose, daffodil, roach, flea.

SPIEGEL: He followed these two categories with a long list of positive and negative words.

GREENWALD: Cheer, love, gloom, ugly.

SPIEGEL: The idea behind the test is that when two concepts are closely associated in your mind, the concept of ice cream and the concept of happiness or ghost and spooky, it's easy to group them together so it goes super-fast. But when two concepts are not usually associated in your head - ice cream and spooky - it takes you a second to switch gears. So how long it takes you to group two things together can tell you whether you think of them as alike or not. It reveals your attitudes.


SPIEGEL: Which was precisely what Tony found when he sat down at the computer and used his new test on himself. Whenever he was asked to put together two concepts that weren't usually associated like insects and love, it took him much longer to do. And really, that's fine when you're putting together the category insects and positive words. But what if the thing that you're asked to do is put together positive words like good and the category black? And what if you struggle to link those things in your mind? Didn't that mean that inside your head in the deep, deep center where no one could see, you thought black people were not positive, that that was your actual attitude? A few weeks later, Tony swapped the categories flower and insect for stereotypical black and white names and then took the test again to find out how fast he could parrot those names with positive and negative words.

GREENWALD: Chip (ph), freedom. Jemelle (ph), gentle.

SPIEGEL: Seven minutes later, his result was staring him in the face. Tony had a very strong association of white with pleasant and black with unpleasant.

GREENWALD: That is what we social psychologists called race bias.

SPIEGEL: Tony was dismayed that he had bias. He is a white man who grew up thinking of himself as a pretty progressive guy. But as a scientist, he was thrilled.

GREENWALD: This works so much more strongly than I expected. This was revealing something that I wasn't aware of. God, this is going to be amazing in use to study prejudice, potentially revolutionary.


SPIEGEL: Tony had actually found a way to look more closely at the concepts hidden inside the head, specifically the concepts around race, what he and his research partner Mahzarin Banaji came to call implicit bias.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: For many, the shootings are proof of police bias.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: That is implicit bias.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: That bias is at the heart of the issues right now.

SPIEGEL: Now, once the implicit bias test existed, new research that used it to measure the power of associations in real life started pouring in. In one study, researcher Jack Dovidio gave white doctors both the implicit bias test and then also questionnaires about prejudice. And then he videotaped those same doctors in actual situations where they interacted with black and white patients.

DOVIDIO: The explicit attitudes were actually a pretty good predictor of how verbally friendly a white person is towards a black person in part because when I'm interacting with a black person, if I think I'm not prejudiced, I will try to behave in a very deliberative non-prejudiced way. I'll think about what I say, and what I say is more friendly.

SPIEGEL: But the IAT was way more predictive of the doctor's body language, those behaviors that Jack says are much more difficult for a person to control consciously.

DOVIDIO: Like, I look less at the person. I have a more closed posture. I lean back.

SPIEGEL: Basically, your body behaved like an alien hand. Your conscious self didn't quite control it. And here's the interesting part for race relations, at least to me. If you asked African-Americans after the interaction with the white doctor was over whether or not the doctor was friendly, the thing they attended to was not the spoken words.

DOVIDIO: In our research, it's the non-verbal cues by far.

SPIEGEL: And when the signals were contradictory, someone was verbally friendly but had negative body language?

DOVIDIO: Black participants basically dismissed the verbal altogether. But if you asked the white person how friendly they behaved, two things predict how friendly they thought they behaved. One was how non-prejudiced they are. And the other one was how nice, how friendly they were verbally because those are the things that are accessible to us.

SPIEGEL: Basically, white people and black people were attending to completely different parts of the interaction, which is why they walked away with such tragically different interpretations of what had taken place. Now, doctor-patient interactions are important. They have real consequences in terms of treatment. So this finding is meaningful in the real world. Wow. That makes me tired.


SPIEGEL: I mean, like, it explains a lot, but it makes me sad.

DOVIDIO: Oh, it makes me sad, too.

SPIEGEL: But not everyone found the news about implicit bias so disheartening.

PHILLIP GOFF: My response was, see, I told you.

SPIEGEL: This is Phillip Goff, a psychologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice who founded the Center for Policing Equity. Goff was still a graduate student in 1999 when he was introduced to the idea of implicit bias. And he says as one of the few African-Americans in his program, it made huge intuitive sense to him.

GOFF: It's like when someone says something that you've been feeling but never had the right words for. It felt a lot like that for me. It felt relief. It felt validating. It was a weapon against feeling like you were crazy in these situations where you measure racial prejudice and the levels are low but you live in it and it doesn't feel like the levels are low. It doesn't feel like racism isn't alive and well in that situation. And implicit bias sort of gave a language for that.

SPIEGEL: And it made Goff feel hopeful, he says, because this new theory suggested that there might be new responses.

GOFF: In some senses, when there are signs on the water fountains and when even children don't get the benefit of their humanity, it's really clear where the enemy is. When they take the signs away, it's harder to locate it. So it was all optimism. It was all about making it easier to chart a path forward towards the large heavy lift I knew we still had to do within my lifetime.


SPIEGEL: Charting a path to the large heavy lift, that's where the conversation turned once the news about implicit bias and how it might affect things in the real world started filtering into the press.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: That deals with something called implicit bias.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Implicit bias.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: Implicit bias.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #8: Implicit bias.

BARACK OBAMA: Our implicit biases. And we all have them.

SPIEGEL: And though there's been plenty of pushback, people who don't believe in implicit bias at all and very credible scientists who say that implicit bias doesn't affect how people behave to the degree that psychologists like Tony claim, there are also plenty of people - like the man that I started with, Frank - who have found themselves deeply disturbed by some of the thoughts that pop into their heads and would happily, if they could, banish them. So what can you do? What can you do if you're a person like Frank Sommerville, who wants to rip the bias from your body? What can you do to change the concepts in your head? Anything?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: If you're a newcomer or visitor, let us know so that we can welcome you. Now, we'll introduce ourselves.

SPIEGEL: It's 6:45 on a Thursday. And in a small room off the main chapel of the Congregational Church of Sunnyvale in Sunnyvale, Calif., about 12 people have gathered to change the concepts inside themselves. They sit in a circle, solemn but ready. It's the weekly meeting of Racists Anonymous.

MARY RUTH: I'm Mary Ruth, and I'm a racist.

RON: I'm Ron, and I'm a racist.

MORGAN: I'm Morgan, and I'm a racist.

MAY: I'm May. I am a racist.

SPIEGEL: There are mostly white people in the room, but more than a third are people of color, all deeply concerned about how the thoughts in their heads might affect the people around them. And so they go through the same drills that any Alcoholics Anonymous meeting would go through. They admit the bad habit that brought them to this meeting and then speak the path forward out loud.

MORGAN: I've made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself concerning my bias towards others on the basis of race, class, gender, physical attributes, abilities and sexual orientation.

MAY: Five - I have admitted to God, to myself and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongful thoughts and actions.

SPIEGEL: After they finish reading the steps, an older woman pipes up. She says she's been thinking a lot recently about the mistakes that she's made.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I feel like I have participated so much in racism because there were times I never spoke up.

SPIEGEL: She talks a little bit about the things that she's seen, the indignities large and small.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: I think that's what hurts me the most now is to have allowed it.

SPIEGEL: The pastor of the church, Ron Buford, is the person who got Racists Anonymous started after a personal experience in London made him realize that as a black man, there was something very fundamental that he hadn't understood about the world.

RON BUFORD: While I was over there, I kept thinking, wow, something feels different, you know? It's like something's different. What is it, you know?

SPIEGEL: London was actually the first time that Ron had ever been abroad. And there were so many new things, he says for days he couldn't put his finger on exactly what felt so off. But then one night, he went to a restaurant with a white colleague and noticed that the behavior of the maitre d' didn't feel familiar. Ron could see no difference in eye contact or body language between him and his white friend.

BUFORD: He had not made a decision about who was in control, and it didn't seem to matter to him. He had two people in front of him. He treated us both as people who are going to decide about what to eat and where to go. And that may seem like a small thing (laughter) but it's not.

SPIEGEL: Before Ron was a pastor, he'd worked selling expensive high-tech systems, so he'd actually made a study of how people get treated in restaurants. He felt he had to.

BUFORD: If I had to set up a business lunch, I went to the restaurant ahead of time to ask for the waiter and set things up so that I wouldn't have a humiliating moment when I'm treated with disrespect by a server or a maitre d'. I really - if it was a meeting where we had to do a deal and the power aspects of the meeting were important, I couldn't leave that to chance.

SPIEGEL: But there he was at this restaurant and zero difference. Nothing.

BUFORD: Well, that's interesting.

SPIEGEL: It struck him that there were no ideas in people's head about who he was or at least none that made them behave as they did in America.

BUFORD: After that, I started noticing it just wasn't happening there anywhere.

SPIEGEL: Now, Ron says that he knows that the U.K. isn't a paradise free of racism.

BUFORD: I understand from my friends who are from the Caribbean who live there that they do encounter it in some ways.

SPIEGEL: But as a black American, he says he just couldn't feel it.

BUFORD: It's like going on a race vacation. It was like, you know, this is wonderful. I thought it was really great.


SPIEGEL: When Ron came home, he says he immediately felt the difference and found himself fantasizing about experiencing that other world again. He wondered if there was anything he could do to affect individual racism. And then one day, Ron was sitting in his office.

BUFORD: We have AA meetings here every day at noon, some days twice. And I sit here because the walls are thin. And I'd hear him saying the Lord's Prayer and so forth. And I thought, what if this is like alcoholism?

SPIEGEL: What if the implicit racism of individuals in the U.S. could be thought of as a disease brought on by habitual behavior, habitual behavior that we as a culture learned while other cultures hadn't learned it?

BUFORD: And we need to unlearn it.

SPIEGEL: So you said, I want to help people un-learn these behaviors?

BUFORD: That's right. That's right.

SPIEGEL: So Ron established Racists Anonymous based on Alcoholics Anonymous, reasoning that though AA has had plenty of failures, it's had real successes, too.

BUFORD: Do people fail at it? Yes, but it's a way.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Amen. Keep coming back - it works.


SPIEGEL: So maybe you think the idea of approaching prejudice like this, like a bad habit, sounds ridiculous, super California and eye-rolly (ph). Maybe it seems that way but it's not.

WILL COX: It is a habit. It's something that the more it's been done in the past, the stronger it is in your mind and the more automatic it becomes.

SPIEGEL: Will Cox studies prejudice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And he's part of a group of researchers who approach prejudice literally as a habit akin to fingernail biting or smoking. They see it as a mental habit but a habit learned in exactly the same way that you learn anything.

COX: These kinds of unintentional biases, they're very ordinary. They come from our ordinary learning mechanisms.

SPIEGEL: See, the way that we learn anything, according to Will, is by repeatedly associating one thing, one concept with another thing, another concept.

COX: So if you're learning your multiplication tables and you, you know, the teacher says two times two is four.

SPIEGEL: What happens in your brain is that the neurons that house the concept two activate and connect with the neurons in your brain that house the other concepts in that sentence - times and four.

COX: And that's what learning is. It's building of connections among neurons in your brain.

SPIEGEL: So every time that you encounter that idea... it

COX: Two times two is four. Two times two is four. It rehearses those times tables in your brain as you hear them and then as you kind of think about them in your own mind.

SPIEGEL: And the more you encounter these concepts together, the stronger the connection gets, which brings us to stereotypes.

COX: So like the association between black men and criminality, between those two concepts, that would be a stereotype.

SPIEGEL: In our culture, those two concepts - black men and criminality - get linked all the time. In fact, they're often linked out of proportion to the degree to which they actually exist in society.

COX: So for instance, if a crime is reported on the news, if the crime is committed by a black person, it's actually twice as likely that they'll show a picture of the person who committed the crime than if it was committed by a white person.

SPIEGEL: Basically, our culture has spent a lot of time teaching us to connect those two concepts. And so they often are connected in our minds.

SOMERVILLE: I'm just going to watch just in case.


SPIEGEL: Which brings me to this kind of unfortunate thing about human learning.

COX: Human brains are very good at learning things and not so good at unlearning things.

SPIEGEL: Because of the way that our minds work, it is just much easier for a stereotype to perpetuate itself than to be overturned because to change a concept you need to get extremely consistent feedback that the concept is incorrect. But most of the time we get no feedback at all.

COX: You know, imagine you're walking around downtown and you see a guy in a pink shirt who's maybe listening to Britney Spears, maybe talks with a lisp. And often people will see that and what'll pop to mind is the idea that he's gay. They'll make an assumption. Oh, look at that gay guy. But they're not going to run up to him and ask him, oh, are you gay? I had the thought that you were gay, but I just want to, you know, confirm or disconfirm it.

SPIEGEL: If you instantly found out that the man wasn't gay, that stereotype wouldn't gain power. But you don't, so just the assumption strengthens the stereotype.

COX: The way it gets stored in their memory is that that was a gay guy, that having a pink shirt means he's gay because that's how our learning happens. It happens by the activation of these associations.

SPIEGEL: In other words, the deck is kind of stacked in favor of whatever stereotype is already in there.


SPIEGEL: So given all of this, what can you do to change a concept? What can you do?


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #9: Stereotypes are like bad habits in that they can occur without thought or intention.

SPIEGEL: About seven years ago, Will and the professor that he works with at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, this famous researcher named Patricia Devine who actually came up with the idea of thinking of prejudice as a habit, created the intervention that you hear running under my voice. Its aim is to teach people how to override the biased concepts in their heads. And it's a whole workshop, but I'm going to focus here on the last section, strategies that they've identified that actually counter biased concepts. Like the strategy they call stereotype replacement, which Devine says can be explained with a pretty simple mnemonic.

PATRICIA DEVINE: Detect, reflect and reject.

SPIEGEL: To understand, you can think about the sequence of steps that Patricia took to fight her own bad habit, fingernail biting. When she was younger, Patricia says she would bite her nails bloody. But she did it, she says, mostly without being aware, so she says the very first step was to try to detect when the biting occurred.

DEVINE: I had to become a detective of sorts, asking the question, when do I do this? And I figured out it was every time I sat down to write at the typewriter.

SPIEGEL: So that's what she teaches. First, detect the thoughts. And then, in a non-judgmental way, reflect on why they come to mind.

DEVINE: Become aware of when is it that I think in those ways? When does that stereotype pop to mind? And that awareness turns out to be critical in trying to move forward to reduce the tendency to think in stereotypic ways.

SPIEGEL: And again, it's really important to be non-judgmental because if you panic about the thought and try to force it down or away it'll gain power. So it's better to just matter-of-factly recognize the concept and where it comes from and then reject the stereotype. Basically, Patricia says, by replacing it with an alternative response, as she did when she was trying to train herself out of her nail biting.

DEVINE: I started to put - place my fingers on the keyboard just as an alternative response, just so I could have a reminder of where my fingers should be rather than approaching my face. And I think the process is analogous to trying to overcome mental habits.

SPIEGEL: So for example, in practice, let's say you see a black man approaching a white woman at a bus stop and a thought like Frank's thought occurs to you. You argue with the thought, ask why you had it, whether it's true, what it might feel like to be the person walking down the street, having people around you think that way. Those things, Patricia says, can help to retrain your brain, kind of like retraining your hands to just sit on the keyboard instead of moving to your face.

DEVINE: Yes. Yes.

SPIEGEL: There are other strategies that they teach, all to counter the mental habit of prejudice. And their intervention has been shown to work. In fact, it's one of the few implicit bias interventions that's been rigorously tested. But neither Patricia nor Will think that their intervention is by any means a magic bullet. Both say there is no quick fix to changing these kinds of concepts.

DEVINE: I don't think it's going to be easy. It is an enormous task. And it might take time and a lot of effort, but it is something that people can do. People can break the prejudice habit. But it's not something that necessarily fully goes away.

SPIEGEL: You just learn how not to let the associations affect you or your behavior. For now, she says, it's the best that we can do on a personal level, at least until one fine day when the individual and systematic racism that afflicts this country finally and truly fades away. And one day, Patricia believes, is getting closer because she says there are people in many places around the country using what we know about how bias works to make it come closer, even people who initially resisted the idea that they themselves might have implicit bias lurking inside them.

ROSIN: When we come back, a police officer confronts his unconscious bias.


SPIEGEL: If you're looking for a new podcast to try, how about Planet Money? One thing people say about Planet Money is how much they love listening to it even though they don't care about business or economics. It's just a smart show with great stories that help explain your world. Find Planet Money on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

ROSIN: This is INVISIBILIA. I'm Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: And I'm Alix Spiegel.

ROSIN: Today we're looking at the negative concepts in our heads around race and whether we can change them. It's often difficult to even see these biased concepts in ourselves in the first place. Alix continues the story with a man who had that experience.

SPIEGEL: Do you remember the very first time you heard the words implicit bias?

RAY RICE: Probably when we got notification that we were going to the training (laughter). That was the first time I recall hearing it.

SPIEGEL: Lieutenant Ray Rice works for the St. Louis County Police Department northern county precinct, a police station just north of Ferguson. And a couple months ago he and I climbed into his massive police SUV and drove to the place where Michael Brown was shot dead by Officer Darren Wilson. So it was right - is it right - do you know exactly where the shooting took place?

RICE: I believe it was, like, right here.

SPIEGEL: In the days after Brown's death, Lieutenant Rice spent a huge amount of time in this area face to face with crowds of angry protesters. Ray himself is black, and so the experience was really emotionally complicated. But it's clear if you talk to him that Ray walked out of the protests feeling like the police got a raw deal.

RICE: The loud voice is all of you all suck, right?

SPIEGEL: This made Ray angry because he felt that that position didn't take into account the complexity of being a police officer, of facing genuine danger and being forced to make complicated decisions in an instant. Ray had seen all the videos showing officers shooting black men, and he knew firsthand that policing had issues that badly needed to be addressed. But he also felt that the videos could be incredibly misleading.

RICE: You don't get the taste, touch, feel and looking into someone's eyes that they intend to kill you. Only the people that are in that fight see that. You don't see that on TV.

SPIEGEL: After the protests, his precinct was reviewed by the Justice Department, which found that though the force didn't have the problems of the Ferguson Police Department, there was still room for improvement, and suggested implicit bias training, which didn't sit well with Ray.

RICE: When you have something that has bias attached to it, you know, like, what the [expletive] is this?

SPIEGEL: After all, Ray thought, he was black.

RICE: Being a black person, I was like, I couldn't have implicit bias towards black people. That's not even a thing (laughter).

SPIEGEL: But the Justice Department was the Justice Department, so Ray went. He says he started the training reading his phone under the table. But then a sentence popped out at him.

RICE: Even well-intentioned people have implicit bias. And so that was like, hmm, maybe I should start paying attention.

SPIEGEL: He watched as the female trainer threw up some slides. The woman started talking about all the research and how unconscious bias expressed itself in everyday life.

RICE: As I'm sitting in class, I started to think about moments that were like aha moments. Actually, I did that.

SPIEGEL: And with that realization came another even uglier realization.

RICE: I was doing the exact same thing that had been done to me. You know, so it was, like, troubling.

SPIEGEL: Ray grew up in St. Louis, and when he was a teenager his father's best friend won the lottery and bought Ray a car, a 1989 Pontiac 6000. And so every day Ray would drive the car to visit his girlfriend, who lived about seven miles away.

RICE: Within that six or seven-mile stretch there were, like, six different police departments. And almost on a daily basis, sometimes twice, I would get pulled over, searched and then written a ticket because obviously I had to be a drug dealer driving that car.

SPIEGEL: And he says stuff like this still happens to him all the time. Just the week before, he went to the bank. And as soon as the teller spied his Tupac T-shirt she called the manager, who told Ray that he needed special verification. They contacted the business that wrote the check. But even that wasn't enough.

RICE: I had to put a thumbprint on the check. Like, if I could have, like, choked him out and punched him in the face and not gone to jail or lose my job I would have. That's how enraging it is.

SPIEGEL: And yet sitting in implicit bias class, it was clear to him that he, too, constantly made those kinds of assumptions and acted on them as a police officer.

RICE: Wow. It made me realize that if I was doing it - right? - we got a lot of work to do.

SPIEGEL: And so Ray became a trainer. These days he's hired by police departments to train officers in implicit bias using many of the techniques Patricia Devine teaches in her habits class. He says most of his students are white.

RICE: And I start with saying that, you know, I'm no different than you. So it's not about you being a white officer treating black people different because I've done it. That goes a long way.

SPIEGEL: He says it's really important to make his fellow officers feel emotionally safe. Morally normalize these thoughts as they were normalized for him or else people will close their ears. In a way, what Ray is trying to do, like Patricia and Will, is recast implicit bias as more morally neutral, a less than ideal reality to try to manage, which makes sense because if you accept the work on unintentional bias, turns out that almost all of us, no matter your color or background, have parts of ourselves that would likely disappoint us if we had the misfortune to see them clearly in daylight.

DOVIDIO: I do think that most people think they're really good. And I do think that most people think they're better than they really are.

SPIEGEL: Most of us believe ourselves to be better than we are. That's what Jack Dovidio told me. But the reality is more complicated than we would like it to be. We don't float free, a self-determined island. We live in a world with a history - in many cases, an unfortunate history that has passed down in concept form from generation to generation. But the moral of this work is that that history doesn't have to be our future.

DOVIDIO: Now I can make myself more like what I want to be than I could before. If I spend my life denying my other self, then I'm letting my other self operate and influence my behavior because I'm not embracing it. I'm not correcting it. I'm not seeing it. I go through life with blinders. And once you understand that you have this other self, it's not your enemy. It's a human part of you.


CALLIE SOMERVILLE: I'm Frank Somerville's daughter, one of a kind and only one of a kind 7-year-old daughter.

SPIEGEL: This is a video of Callie, the daughter of Frank Somerville, the man you heard at the beginning of this story. In the end, Frank found his own way to fight implicit bias. He started a kind of one-man campaign. He posted on Facebook, did stories on his local Fox News show, hoping that this might make a difference for how people thought about implicit bias, doing what he could for Callie and kids like her.


CALLIE: I love to dance. I love tennis. I especially love soccer.

SPIEGEL: Callie is a tiny, beautiful girl with a huge smile full of spark. And if you scroll through Frank's Facebook feed, you can see plenty of pictures of her and her friends. There she is with white kids and black kids and Latino kids, all of them hopeful that once they grow up and move into the real world, when they walk down the street, what others will see is them - them for who they are, people, complicated and full of contradictions like the rest of us.


CALLIE: See you later.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Something called implicit bias.

ROSIN: And now we have a very, very special dance party for you, an original song composed for INVISIBILIA by Erick the Architect of the Flatbush Zombies.


ERICK THE ARCHITECT: (Singing) This stubbornness in our nation - blinded by own possession. We question if we can make it, but look at what we created. News is scandalous. Propaganda is panhandling. Moving with savages - banning cannabis be the catalyst. We all can make wishes while you're still implicit. Make a change with self. Then we change the district. I don't have advantages. Black skin be amethyst. Judging by the love, what it does is unanimous. I know it don't matter. I'm trying to break this pattern. Tell somebody, be the same even if you aren't on camera. I'm wide awake - time to bake. Dosh formulate my other self up on the shelf where we harbor hate. For my people - for my people - hold the common transgressions in the eagle. See, you never see me compromise with evil. I see the ill intentions shining through the people. For my people...

SPIEGEL: INVISIBILIA is hosted by me, Alix Spiegel...

ROSIN: And me, Hanna Rosin.

SPIEGEL: Our senior editor is Anne Gudenkauf. Our executive producer is Jeff Rogers. INVISIBILIA is produced by Meghan Keane, Yowei Shaw and Abby Wendle. Our show runner is Liana Simonds.

ROSIN: We had help from Micaela Rodriguez, Jon Hamilton, Mark Memmott, Micah Ratner, Nancy Shute, Meredith Rizzo, Maya Dukmasova, Viviane Fairbank, Anna Kupstis (ph) and Ben Calhoun. Our technical director is Andy Huether. And our vice president of programming is Anya Grundmann.

SPIEGEL: A huge thanks to psychologist Philip Tetlock for his critique of the IAT and Judge Mark Bennett for sharing his story with me and James Pennebaker for advice on all things psychology. Also thanks to Erick from the Flatbush Zombies for his original song.

ROSIN: Now for a moment of non-Zen.

SPIEGEL: Am I not supposed to shake my co-host?

ROSIN: (Shushing).

SPIEGEL: Is that, like, a thing in the ethics handbook? Or are you allowed to...

ROSIN: Silence.

SPIEGEL: Join us next week for more...



UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Something called implicit bias.

ROSIN: Thank you so much for tuning in to INVISIBILIA. If you're listening in Apple Podcasts, could you please take a moment and leave us a review? The feedback really, really helps us. We mean it. Thank you.

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