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Research on aversive racism, subtle sexism, and heterosexism has shown that socialization and cultural conditioning fosters unconscious biases and misinformation about various marginalized groups in our society; some research even suggests that cultural conditioning can actually connect prejudices to emotions in a neurological manner. Thus, it is highly possible and even probable that most people have unconsciously inherited the cultural biases of their forebears and that of society.

The concept of aversive racism is central to our understanding of microaggressions (Dovidio, Gaertner, Penner, Pearson, & Norton, 2009; Gaertner & Dovidio, 2005). Simply defined, aversive racism is a contemporary form of bias: It is an insidious and less conspicuous form of racism that hides in the assumptions/beliefs/values of well-intentioned people and is difficult to identify in its motivational manifestations. This is especially true when such biases are invisible to perpetrators and are unintentional in nature.

According to Dovidio and colleagues, aversive racists truly believe they are nonprejudiced, consciously hold egalitarian values, and would never deliberately discriminate; yet, they are likely to harbor unconscious biases that may result in discriminatory actions. Studies reveal that training and education may be successful in confronting and lessening conscious biases, stereotypes, and preconceived notions but that implicit biases generally remain untouched and unaffected.

Because most people experience themselves as good, moral, and decent human beings, they find it difficult to entertain the notion that they may have acted in a racist, sexist, or heterosexist manner. Thus, in addition to holding hidden biases, getting them to confront their prejudices and discriminatory actions threatens their self-image as someone who stands for equality, justice, and respect for everyone.

Two layers of resistance are present: (1) the unawareness and unintentionality of their prejudices and discriminatory actions and (2) the need to preserve their self-image as an unbiased and good person. If one’s prejudices are unconscious, if one’s discriminatory actions are unintentional, and if one’s self-image is locked into a belief of one’s inherent goodness, the challenges and questions become: How do we make the invisible visible? How do we reach people so that they can become aware of their biases? How do we make people see the harm perpetrated against socially devalued groups in our society?

Derald Wing Sue (via wretchedoftheearth)

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