News & Politics

OK, So Mark Cuban Apologized—But Is He Right That We're All Prejudiced?

Five disturbing takeaways from a professor who studies hidden biases.

Photo Credit: DFree/Shutterstock.com

On the one hand, kudos to Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks owner, for immediately acknowledging on Wednesday that he is bigoted. Is there anything more clueless and hollow than a white man declaring, as Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling recently did, "I am not racist." Unfortunately, Cuban's morsel of self-knowledge was immediately followed by an unconscious—and unconscionable—piece of racism:  “If I see a black kid, in a hoodie, and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy who has tattoos all over his face, white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere, I’m walking back to the other side.”

Hoodies! Sweatshirts! All teenagers wear them. Trayvon Martin was killed for wearing one while black. This uniform of kids everywhere is equivalent to a tattooed, shaved-head, okay, basically menacing-looking white guy.

Cuban later tweeted an apology for the hoodie/Trayvon Martin link for its insensitvity to the slain teenager's family. But did he get that equating sweatshirts with prison-culture tattoos is erroneous?

But the tech billionaire stands by the substance of his comments, which is that we are all prejudiced. “None of us have pure thoughts; we all live in glass houses.”

When it comes to biases, it's definitely better to be conscious of them than not. The Washington Post consulted Anthony G. Greenwald, professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle and co-author of “Blindspot: The Hidden Biases of Good People,” for some much needed perspective on the question Cuban's comments raise. Are we all prejudiced? Greenwald has spent 20 years studying bias, partly by collecting data through a test that asks participants to make off-the-cuff associations between race and certain words. 

Here are a few takeaways from Professor Greenwald in that interview:

1. People who regard themselves as fair and unbiased nevertheless can engage in judgments and actions that are biased in ways that they don’t even recognize. What’s unusual about Mark Cuban in this case is that he recognizes it.

2. About 75 percent of white Americans, and almost that exact same percentage of Asian Americans, have what we call an “automatic white preference” in a test that compares white and black [races]. A higher proportion have an automatic young preference. . . . And many people have gender stereotypes and associate women less with careers than men, and women less with science. That stereotype is actually more present in women than men. The thing is, these are biases people don’t want to have, and aren’t aware of having, yet they can influence judgments.

3. The factor in personal background that makes a difference is having particularly close relationships with members of other racial groups. My parents were not biased; they didn’t communicate any bias to me, yet I acquired these biases and stereotypes that are just floating around. In fact, the news media and entertainment media are full of them.

4. There’s a difference between Mark Cuban and Donald Sterling. Donald Sterling is overtly biased and denies it. Mark Cuban is probably not overtly biased, but accepts the idea that he can nevertheless be victim to biases he doesn’t approve of.

5. Even many black Americans have an automatic white preference, because they’ve been raised in a society that’s white-majority and white-dominant.

 

 

 

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