One thing I did to honor Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, was to take a test: The Implicit Association Test. The test is designed to reveal how we really feel about certain topics. The test-taker can pick from 14 topics. I picked “Race IAT”.
The test took about 5 minutes.
“Are you a racist?” is a question that’s been in the news the last few days. It’s a good question – a question I needed to ask myself, not just someone else.
Here’s what the test said about me:
“Our data suggests a slight automatic preference for European Americans over African Americans.”
Really? That’s terrible! That’s not what I expected – at all.
Maybe I’m just a bad test-taker.
Maybe I got distracted.
Maybe I didn’t understand the questions.
Maybe it’s a bad test.
Or maybe the test is accurate and I’m not as unbiased as I thought.
It got worse. The test-givers had a series of questions the test-takers might ask. Here was one of them: “What can I do about an implicit preference that I do not want?”
That’s me. I didn’t want that evaluation. I didn’t like my test score. There have been a lot of test scores in my education path I haven’t liked. But these results mattered more. They hurt.
I don’t want to have any bias toward any group over another. But I guess some part of me does. In Thomas Merton’s terms, that part of me is “the false self.” So, what can I do to change it? Here’s the answer from the test-givers: “Nothing.” Here’s what they specifically said:
“Right now, there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated.”
Well, that stinks. I’m not going to accept that. If I need to change, I will change.
I can be a “new person.”
“Old things have gone away, new things have come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). That’s hopeful!
“Everyone thinks about changing the world but no one things about changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy That’s challenging.
No one comes out of the womb a racist. No ones born harboring hateful, prejudicial thoughts or views toward others. But, that baby grows up, and like a sponge soaks up the liquid into which it is dipped, children soak up the attitudes and perspectives of those people into whose lives they are submerged.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks to this when speaking of the Commissioners of Montgomery, Alabama who opposed him and his movement:
“They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they are taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers taught them that…”
“because they are taught these things.”
It was gracious of Dr. King to chalk up the hateful, racist, murderous views and actions of people to their upbringing.
If he is right, then Yoda’s words to Luke are right, “You must unlearn what you have learned.” If I unlearn what I’ve learned, what do I relearn? Maybe Jesus offers me the education I need:
“Take my yoke upon you. Learn of me because I am gentle and humble in spirit…” (Matthew 11:29).
Jesus invites me to learn a new way. It is the way of my identity in God – my “true self” – Thank you Thomas Merton. The way of gentleness and humility, the way of love.
God creates us in God’s own image. Take a moment to let that sink in. That’s big. Teresa of Avila says our soul refers to our God-given godly nature. Our God-given godly nature is the infinite reality of us. Since God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8), we are love.
Let’s learn to live out who we are – to live out love.
And then let me take the test again.