Stars, Stripes, & Harvard’s Implicit Bias Quiz

Five-year-old Vivienne is obsessed with the American flag. “Does everyone know I’m an American Flag Spotter?” she asked me in the car the other day. Well, I think people know you could spot American flags, I said, maybe not that you enjoy it quite so much.

“Ok, so we should tell them that’s my job: spotting American flags. I’m good at it.”

She is so committed that she’ll stop mid-sentence to sound the alert.  Driving down flag-lined New England streets in July was especially interesting… “Mom, when are we going to — AMERICAN FLAG, AMERICAN FLAG, AMERICAN FLAG — when are we going to have lunch?” (She has to say it out loud for each flag we pass.)

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So, with her love of country firmly and vocally in place, it’s been a weird week of conversation around our house, exposing some of our nation’s dark history.  Ryan and I are committed to talking about real world issues with our kids, but it’s still so heartbreaking to see her absorb the bad.

Leading up to, during, and after the Charlottesville protest last weekend, I was what I can only describe as ravenous for information. Glued to my phone or the computer. I even picked up the Wall Street Journal, which is delivered to our house every morning, mostly for Ryan’s consumption – I rarely have the time.  But I MADE time this week.

Vivienne noticed – both my preoccupation and my distress. When we finally sat down to talk about it, I tried to choose my words carefully, to make it age-appropriate. But how do you make white supremacy age-appropriate?  I felt like every sentence was slicing through her furrowed brow, turning the world on end. It was hard. She had a lot of questions, and we talked for a long time.

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Somehow, the conversation ended with me trying to explain radicalization and implicit bias… too much?  Yet, her five-year-old conclusion was so simple:

Some white people with badness in their hearts don’t love everyone like God does. But that’s our job.

Yes, it sure is, Viv.

So, with that in mind, I wanted to share a few things that have made me consider the state of my own heart this week, and the job ahead of me.

Good Reads

This from Brian McLaren, on why he went to stand with clergy in counter-protest in Charlottesville — and how the Evangelical church is complicit in the history of white supremacy. (He also wrote this reflection on the protests afterward.)

This blog post, 7 Things I’m Teaching my White Kids About Privilege. A lot of this mirrors my own experience growing up thinking that racism was essentially behind us. I don’t know the fellow mom who wrote this post, but I’m grateful for her honesty and ideas for how to help our kids become aware of their privilege and learn how to use it for good.

Harvard’s Implicit Bias Quiz

Implicit bias… the attitudes, preferences, or aversions we have towards people or groups without realizing it.

At my neuroscientist sister’s suggestion, I took Harvard’s implicit bias quiz (she has all her students take it), and I was stunned by the result. Truly, so sad to see my own unconscious bias spelled out before me on the computer screen.

Your data suggests a strong automatic preference for White people over Black people.

A strong preference? Me? Here I am, a person so sincerely rejecting prejudice, and yet, this unconscious (and unwelcome) habit of the mind lurking behind all my good intentions. I’m still working through this, and probably will be for a long time.  I think it’s the place I have to start.

You can read much more on implicit bias in this Atlantic article, but if you haven’t got the time, here’s a helpful takeaway:

  1. It is normal to have biases we’re not consciously aware of.
  2. It is not morally wrong to have those biases.
  3. It is a matter of great moral significance how we choose to act as a result of those biases.

I encourage you to take the quiz.  It’s not a clear cut score, or a pat answer to the huge problem of racism in our culture, but it is one way to begin or continue your own honest self reflection.


In an interesting coincidence, my Bible study group just discussed Matthew 15:10-28, this coming Sunday’s gospel reading. Here’s an excerpt: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth… But what comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart.”

The state of our hearts unveiled in our words. Could it be more timely?

The Episcopal service includes this weekly confession, a plea for forgiveness for what we have done and what we have left undone. I might add: for what we consciously do, and what we unconsciously do.

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.  BCP 360

May God give us courage and insight to see the ways we unknowingly perpetuate systems of injustice. May he heal our hearts. May he help us listen to those who are oppressed. May he show us the particular ways we are called to do the work of reconciliation.

One thought on “Stars, Stripes, & Harvard’s Implicit Bias Quiz

  1. I haven’t taken the test yet, but I will. I can believe it will show unconscious bias, I’m sorry to say. This is excellent teaching, Caroline. Thank you–


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