Are sexist, racist, homophobic or other forms of widespread prejudice always a matter of conscious beliefs? In the UK, ever since the trial of the men suspected of killing Stephen Lawrence, the idea of ‘institutional racism’ has been part of public discourse. The idea that racism – the systematic disadvantaging of people based on the colour of their skin or other markers – could be ‘written in’ to institutional practices and rules was hard for some to accept. There is also a substantial body of psychological research, however, to suggest that systematic biases of one kind or another – sexist, racist, homophobic, ‘fattist’ – can exist at the level of preconscious beliefs.
The topic of implicit bias was the subject of last night’s Cardiff Philosophy Café, with a discussion led by Dr Jonathan Webber (Philosophy, Cardiff University). Implicit bias, in Jon’s view, is a topic on which psychological research sheds interesting light, without necessarily allowing us to fully understand all its implications. To do this, a little philosophy is needed, which for Jon means the thought of key figures associated with French Existentialism, namely Simone de Beauvoir and Frantz Fanon.