That Fletcher Forum op-ed reproduced as a commentary by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) of Singapore, a leading research and graduate teaching institution in strategic and international affairs in the Asia Pacific region. Many thanks to RSIS for letting it see the light of day back home.
Do you prefer white people? Or black? Or are you proudly “colour-blind”?
Last week I subjected myself to an Implicit Association Test (IAT) run by some people at Harvard. It was a most fascinating test, and I have never taken one like this before. It flashes pictures of faces of white and black people, and asks the subject to group these pictures together with some positive and negative words, such as “good” and “bad”.
Then what I think the test does is measure and compare the amount of time it takes for the subject to group faces of whites to positive words and faces of blacks to negative words in one section of the exercise, with the times it takes to group faces of blacks to positive words and that of whites to negative words. Then it declares to the subjects face that he/she has a mild/moderate/strong preference for European-American people or African-American people.
According to Freud, the unconscious mind wields great influence over our behaviour, even though we are unaware of its underlying effects. Think of our minds as icebergs—the small tip is what we see; the unconscious part is the submerged portion that even we ourselves don’t see or are not even aware of. The unconscious, Freud quotes Le Bon as saying, is even more prevalent in groups, where we see “the disappearance of the conscious personality, the predominance of the unconscious personality.” (The stuff Freud and Le Bon talk about in group psychology makes for scary reading, but that’s for another post another day).
So give this IAT a try. Confront your unconscious mind, see what it’s about, find out whether it is making you more prejudiced than you think is right. Think about how it is holding you back as a decent human being and why. (I won’t say how to resolve those knots in your unconsciousness, you’d need a shrink for that, don’t wanna mess people’s heads up.)
So what was the result of my IAT? It says that I have a moderate preference for European-Americans compared to African-Americans. Sobering. Apologetic to my African-American friends. And some self-reflection is in order.
 Freud, Sigmund. “Group psychology and the analysis of the ego.” (1920).