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New project seeks to address ‘unconscious’ racial biases

WASHINGTON – A project sponsored by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, is working to find new ways to promote racial equality and fairness in America.

Americans for American Values is a nonprofit organization that will research the effects of “unconscious racial bias” on decision making and will develop strategies to support decision making based on consciously-held American values rather than on racial anxiety and stereotypes.

In recent years, implicit racial bias has been the topic of many studies in areas of law, politics and social services.

The AAV project, which began in April, includes studying and testing biases, especially those that are unconscious or implicit, and creating and testing new methods of exposing biases and intervening effectively to reduce or neutralize them in the public sphere.

The organization’s founder and executive director, john powell, believes that race inequality in America is empowered by hidden biases, that if adequately addressed through public education, can be eliminated.

Powell is also the executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, an internationally-recognized authority in the areas of civil rights, civil liberties and issues relating to race, ethnicity, poverty and law, as well as a prominent author, whose books include “Structural Racism in a Diverse Society,” co-authored with Michael Omi, and “The Rights of Racial Minorities: The Basic ACLU Guide to Racial Minority Rights.” He also holds the Williams Chair in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law.

“As society tries to move beyond racial discrimination, a better understanding of implicit bias is needed,” powell said. “Our two-fold goal with this study is to help the American public better understand implicit bias and to give them ways to avoid triggering these biases.”

Through his work at the Kirwin Institute, powell has helped clarify the understanding of causes and consequences of racial and ethnic hierarchies and to direct work toward solutions for such disparities among racially and ethnically marginalized populations.

Institute for America’s Future, an organization that seeks to educate and coordinate progressive thinkers, organizers and community activists in order to “build a more just and democratic society,” will act as the AAV project’s fiscal sponsor. Robert Borosage, IAF co-director, said the first series of studies will examine the impact of undetected racially-oriented biases on our democratic process.

“The election of the first African-American president has helped us see one another with new eyes,” he said. “Yet, we still struggle both as a society stratified in large part by race, and marked by attitudes that congeal in a society still marked by racial divisions.” The AAV project will begin with research conducted over the next two years that will effectively identify all the forms of implicit bias and its triggers and will make recommendations on how to avoid them.

According to the project’s publicist, Toby Chaudhuri, the election of President Obama shows how far America has progressed in overcoming the racial divides that for so long scarred this country. Yet, while overt racism is less and less acceptable in America, unconscious racial bias still plays a large role in our politics and society.

The Kellogg Foundation’s funding of the AAV project is in keeping with its stated mission “to support children, families and communities as they strengthen and create conditions that propel vulnerable children to achieve success as individuals and as contributors to the larger community and society.”