Implicit Racism Impacts Classrooms

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Over 60 years after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, race and racism still affect school children in the US. Scores of research studies have shown that teachers treat students differently depending on the student’s race, and this, in turn, leads to achievement gaps and other racial divisions in schools.  

Interestingly, though, most Americans, including teachers, indicate that they do not harbor racist attitudes. So, what explains these patterns?

According to Natasha Warikoo, of Harvard University, and her colleagues, implicit racism provides a plausible explanation. Implicit racism is not consciously maintained, but instead, is automatically expressed, even among otherwise fairminded people.

Warikoo and colleagues suggest implicit racism affects classrooms in at least four ways. First, large-scale studies show that around 70 percent of White Americans have some form of implicit racism. Because this form of racism is pervasive, automatic, and difficult to control, implicit racism is likely prevalent in schools and negatively affecting racial minorities.

Second, people generally are not aware of these associations, so when asked, they would indicate they don’t hold racist beliefs. However, these same individuals are likely to discriminate in subtle ways. Thus, racial disparities can persist even when fair-minded people try to reduce them.

Third, research suggest that implicit racism is associated with have fewer minority friends and being uncomfortable around racial minorities. This could certainly relate to the warmth and regard that teachers show in interracial interactions.

Finally, implicit racism is likely to manifest when people have to make quick decisions—ones they cannot spend a lot of time analyzing different options. This type of situation epitomizes many people’s work life, including teachers.

Fortunately for teachers and their students, interventions can help reduce implicit racism. Learning about implicit racism, its affects, and factors that might perpetuate can aid in reducing biases.