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Does Unconscious Racism Exist by Lincoln Quillian Essay


In his article, ‘Does Unconscious Racism Exist,’ Lincoln Quillian introduces the aspect of the influence of unconscious thoughts on behavior. Racial discrimination is characterized by subdued interactions of members of different communities in the United States. The country, however, has made tremendous progress towards stemming from the vice, which culminated in the election of Barrack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. However, Quillian explores the aspect of implicit prejudice, which involves an association of negative behavior with minority groups, which can lead to discrimination.

Review of the article ‘Does Unconscious Racism Exist’ by Lincoln Quillian

The main argument in this article is that most American citizens unconsciously exhibit discriminatory behavior mainly due to the influences of mass media and personal observations (Quillian, 2008). Minority groups in the United States include African Americans and Latinos. These groups are associated with poverty and increased incidence of crime in their communities. Similarly, individuals from the above communities are perceived to occupy lower positions of authority as compared to whites. The above phenomenon results in the formation of stereotypes that are part of mental schemas that influence an individual’s interaction with different aspects of the environment.

The article expounds on the aspect of association where whites are associated with positive traits, while blacks are associated with negative traits. This concept is referred to as implicit prejudice and is heavily explored in psychology literature. In the article, the author reviews some of the previous research related to the above subject. This includes the relationship between implicit attitudes and discriminatory behavior. Similarly, past research has established a relationship between implicit attitudes and behavior towards various attitude objects, including gender and class.

In order to give increased weight to his argument, the author introduces two methods used to measure implicit attitudes. These methods include rapid priming and implicit association test. Priming is an experiment where participants are presented with primes, usually black and white faces, where an evaluation is carried out later. The evaluation requires the participants to access the probability of unspecified race target exhibiting acting in a threatening way or rather exhibiting violent behavior (Quillian, 2008). The participants, paired with the black prime, tended to view the behavior of the race-unspecified target as highly violent. However, only a small set of participants paired with the white prime viewed the behavior of the race- unspecified target as increasingly violent.

An implicit association test, on the other hand, entails pairing two concepts. Pairing is based on established stereotypes, including the association of white with good and black with bad. The first pairing, therefore, is based on the above stereotypes where studies have established increased association of the above concepts among white study participants. Similarly, a considerable part of black respondents related to stereotypes as portrayed above.

The second part of the experiment encompasses reversal of some of the above stereotypes where white is paired with bad and black is paired with good. Both sets of participants did not relate to the above concepts. Therefore, the above studies confirmed unconscious association of white people with positive traits and association of black people with negative traits.

The above experimental methods lay the basis for the author’s main argument where he relates unconscious unawareness to discriminatory behavior. Some of the other issues that the author raises in order to support his argument include association between race and crime. Therefore, most people associate crime rates to a neighborhood’s racial composition. This contributes to biases developed as a result of past socialization which associate specific races with increased crime rates. Similarly, this is captured under the priming experiment discussed above.

In conclusion, the writer expressly states that deep negative associations are part of most people’s perception which encompasses an association of negative traits to various racial groups. The term ‘unconscious racism’ is coined from the above associations. The author, therefore, introduces a fresh perspective in addressing the aspect of racism and prejudice in various societies including the United States. However, it is important to note that a clear distinction needs to be established thus enable differentiation between conscious and unconscious racism.


The above article introduces a new concept in racism where people’s behavior towards each other is influenced by unconscious thoughts and perception towards different racial groupings. These thoughts are generated by past socialization through the media and other sources. Members of certain racial groupings are associated with negative traits as a result of various phenomena including poverty and crime.

The above concept, therefore, is closely related to racial stereotypes. Racial stereotype mainly affect the minority groups in the United States (Parillo, 2011). These stereotypes are generated over time and are mostly based on past injustices which led to the perception that some racial groups are superior to others. For example, the Civil Rights movement advocated for equality between races across the United States. This included giving African American the right to vote. However, while the Civil Rights movement was in a position to achieve the above, some of the racial stereotypes generated in the past exist inadvertently. This gives rise to implicit attitudes which are manifested in the behavior of members of different racial groupings towards each other.

Implicit memories are generated from past socialization. Currently, the American population consists of four generations including the baby boomers and generations X, Y and Z. The behavior of members from different generations is somewhat characterized by some of the major events that happened in their childhood through to their youth. For example, Generation X and baby boomers childhood and youth respectively was characterized by increased activities of the Civil Rights movement activities. The Civil Rights Movement is characterized by both violent and non-violent as advocated for by some of the leaders including, Dr Martin Luther King Junior and Malcolm X. Therefore, activities of the Civil Rights including racial prejudices and violent protests form part of the past memories of members of the above generations.

Similarly, there are events that are associated with Generations Y’s member’s youth and Z’s childhood. One of the major events associated with above generations is the rise of global terrorism phenomena. These generations have witnessed attacks by terrorists including the 1993 World trade center attacks. Similarly, members of the above generations witnessed the 9/11 attacks. These events form part of past memories and can be associated with implicit attitudes towards members of a specific racial grouping.

For baby boomers and Generation X members, memory of some events that characterized the Civil Rights Movement period leads to increased mistrust towards members of specific racial groupings (Jablonski, 2012). This might not be manifested openly in the individual’s behavior but in some of the reservations that the individual hold while dealing with members of a specific racial group. Therefore, the individual may not be in a position link such reservations to some of the past memories which involve members of that particular racial grouping.

Similarly, increased terrorism activities are characterized by increased number of stereotypes which primarily link terrorism activities with Islam. As a result, the Islamic community across the world including in the United States struggles with such stereotypes which have led to increased discrimination of Muslims (Bucher, 2010). In modern societies such as the United States, such stereotypes can be manifested from implicit memory which influences the individual behavior.

The aspect of unconscious racism, therefore, should be explored further thus more individual are in a position to understand the link between behavior and memory. This is because as most individuals renounce racism and discrimination verbally, their behavior does not reflect on such pronouncements. Mostly, such individuals are not aware of the connection between past memories stored in the unconscious and the behavior which does not reflect on the above pronouncements.

Unconscious racism takes many forms including having reservations on relationships with members of particular racial groupings. Such individuals do not understand that these reservations could be as a result of past memories and existing stereotypes associated with members of a particular race. Unconscious racism is also generated from an increased level of mistrust which is based on past memories of interactions with members of a particular group. This limits the individual’s commitment towards relationships with members of such groups.

It is important for individuals to ensure that they understand the impact of unconscious thoughts and memories on interactions with members of different religious and racial groups. As a result, such individuals can trace hindrances to developing healthy relationships with other community members to the above set of elements. Moreover, more research needs to be carried out on the aspect of unconscious racism ensuring that individuals in various societies including the United States appreciate and understand the concept.

Reference List

Bucher, R. D. (2010). Diversity Consciousness: Opening our minds to people, cultures, and opportunities. (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Jabloski, N. (2012). The Struggle to Overcome Racism, New Scientist, 215 (2280), 1-5.

Parillo, V. (2011). Strangers to these shores: Race and ethnic relations in the United States (10thed.). Boston, MA: Pearson. Qullian , L.(2008). Does Unconscious Racism Exist? Social Psychology Quarterly, 71(1), 6-11.

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