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Prejudice is often understood as an unfavourable or unreasonable opinion, feeling or attitude especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social or religious group.

Due to the subjective nature of what is “unfavourable” or not, “unreasonable” or not, it can be useful to break down prejudice into two categories:

  • Unconscious/implicit bias


Implicitly or unconsciously internalised perceptions about certain groups of people. 

Internalised racism is a form of implicit bias that is normal and endemic as people are socialised in a racialised way, often without knowing it. For example, if you go to school or any educational institution in Scotland and the only black people you see are the cleaners, it is inevitable that you will internalise the erroneous idea that black people can’t be teachers or academics. However, just as racism is internalised and learned, becoming aware of such implicit biases allows individuals to challenge racist stereotypes and racist narratives that they themselves may have spread by accident. 

It isn’t surprising that a lot of equality training in the US and increasingly in the UK has started to include Implicit Association Tests (IATs). These can be useful and such IATs can be found on Harvard’s Project Implicit (from an American perspective that is not always applicable to the UK).

However, internalised racism needs to constantly be questioned and unlearned for it to be effectively rectified. Many critics have dismissed IATs as merely short-term tick-box exercises that don't really deal with the root causes of racism. It must not be forgotten that internalised racism is not the only form of racism that generates harm; institutional and structural racism are major problems. Nevertheless, internalised racism feeds into inter-personal racism, which in turn contributes to the maintenance of structural forms of racism, especially if those in power do not check their bias.

  • Conscious bias

Conscious bias involves preconceived opinions that a person is aware of, comfortable with and/or has no intention of altering or rectifying. In a lot of cases, people are comfortable with their conscious bias when it is deemed acceptable in dominant narratives or in the eyes of the law. As current equality legislation in the UK tends to focus on racism as a matter of intentional harm, it is easy for people to be comfortable with their internalised racism as long as they claim to follow good intentions.

For example, even if one is aware of their conscious bias against Muslims, of their strong belief that Islam is evil and oppressive, they have no incentive to rectify or challenge that belief as the law does not punish them and the banner of “freedom of speech” protects them. Such conscious biases are occasionally punished by hate speech and hate crime legislation, but the state legislation does not always keep up with the harm caused. Moreover, those with the most power are not always forced to challenge their conscious biases if that is what they were elected for (e.g. Donald Trump) or what they are famous for (e.g. Katie Hopkins).

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