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My Turn: A personal journey to explore individual racism and implicit bias

When our younger son and his wife decided on a domestic adoption instead of another pregnancy (and the potentially fraught birth of a second child) they did not rule out an interracial adoption. Thoughtful and aware as they are, they wanted to prepare their parents for the possibility of having a Black or brown-skinned grandchild. So they convened a confab to talk about the possibility of implicit bias in their boomer parents.

I remember having difficulty identifying with any propensity in myself to be subtly racist and vaguely feeling falsely suspected. After all, I’m a liberal, tolerant guy. I’m a social worker and feel “woke” to issues of racial bias and discrimination, even though I have dealt with very few Black or brown-skinned people in my personal or professional life.

They ended up adopting a beautiful baby girl from Arizona with Native American ancestry, and so far so good among the grands, I believe.

But then recently, being mostly retired, I picked up a book to read, entitled Institutional Racism in America, that had quite surely been on my unread bookshelf for some fifty years, from my college days. Published over fifty years ago in 1969, the book was the collective effort of a group of academics wanting to address the shortcomings of the Kerner Commission Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, the official government documentary response to the spate of violent race riots that erupted in American cities in the late 1960s.

I thought, with all the talk of late about racism in America, and the stout resistance on the right to accept its existence, I could be edified about institutional racism. What got me was how well my own implicit bias (who, me?) was brought sharply into relief in the first chapter of this treatise, which starts by describing examples of “individual racism.”

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