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Examining My Implicit Biases

IAT Results Analysis

Before taking the Harvard’s Implicit Association Test (IAT), I considered myself as a person free of racism, even at the subconscious level. I used the IAT to measure my implicit attitudes at the unconscious level, and I was surprised by the results. Schlachter and Rolf (2016) identify the IAT as a test that assesses the strength of associations between concepts, such as minority populations, and evaluations, including stereotypes. Social work professionals regularly interact with people from different backgrounds, cultures, and life experiences. As a result, I took IAT measures across race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, age, and ability. I was somehow surprised by the IAT results, especially after testing my implicit biases across different diversity levels. Before taking the implicit attitude test, I identified myself as African American/Black, Muslim, immigrant, single heterosexual female with a neutral political ideology. My cultural identity, including personalities, such as sex, race, nationality, sexuality, religious beliefs, and ethnicity, contribute to the implicit associations I have formed about members of other cultural or social groups.

The IAT included images of individuals from different cultural backgrounds, in conjunction with either a negative word or positive words. Marini et al. (2021) posit that when someone clicks quickly on a positive word attributed to a person of a particular race, the respondent possesses a stronger unconscious association. On the other hand, when an individual quickly clicks on the negative word every time they see an image of a particular race, it indicates that the respondent holds an implicit negative bias towards people of that race (Martini et al., 2021). Based on this assumption, I was surprised that I hold implicit negative biases towards individuals from different cultural backgrounds, including race, sexuality, political affiliation, and religion.

Although social work professionals focus on respecting and accepting cultural diversity, implicit bias often affect their decisions and judgements. In other words, my implicit biases may impact my objectivity by creating barriers to effective engagement with certain cultural groups. As an effective blind spot, it is difficult for me to see past my implicit biases, though they may influence my actions as a macro social work professional. According to Schlachter and Rolf (2016), unconscious bias reveals the origins of implicit attitudes and racial prejudices. Many factors impact prejudice and implicit biases, including physical differences, direct exposure to each other, media portrayal of different cultural groups, and the established norms and patterns of interactions among various cultural groups. Bandura’s social learning theory plays a vital role in helping people understand how the environment influences development of certain behaviors and attitudes towards individuals from different cultural groups (Ahn et al., 2019). Bandura’s theory suggests that social learning is passive and occurs subconsciously after repeated exposure (Ahn et al., 2019). After taking the IAT test, I realized that my ethnicity, religious affiliation, and gender influenced my beliefs and attitudes towards other people, particularly those we do not share similar cultural identity. Equally, I noticed that the popular and mass media have significantly influenced my perceptions towards people of certain social groups. Although I may feel that I embrace cultural diversity, I need to acknowledge that my cultural identity, personality, and environmental factors, such as friends and the media may promote implicit biases.

Dimensions of Oppression and Marginalization

Differences that are stigmatized and stereotyped can result in prejudice, oppression, and discrimination. Prejudice is based on preconceived stereotypes rather than reason or experience (Netting et al., 2017). Prejudice contributes to discrimination, which Banaji et al. (2021) identify as the prejudicial or unfair treatment of people or groups based on characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and age. On the other hand, oppression is a complex, hegemonic, and multidimensional systems that sustains in-group superiority and privilege (Netting et al., 2017). Common systems of oppression that may influence my future clients and their communities are racism, ethnocentrism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, and ableism. Netting et al. (2017) identify issues experienced by macro social workers when they work with diverse population groups. For instance, the life expectancy of people of color lags behind that of the general population. Netting et al. (2017) noted that the leading cause of death among young men of color is homicide caused by systems of oppression and marginalization.

The four I’s of oppression that may influence my future clients, and their communities are ideological, internalized, interpersonal, and institutional. The “ideological” dimension includes the dominant narratives that promote prejudice against minority groups, such as Blacks and Latino. For instance, in the U.S., the oppressive system maintains the idea that the dominant “White” group is somehow better than minority groups and, in some measures, has the right to control the marginalized communities. Netting et al. (2017) identify some of the dominant narratives as “stronger, hand working, intelligent, noble, capable, deserving, advanced, and superior. On the other hand, the dominant group uses power and authority to promote negative stereotypes and ideologies for the minority groups, such as “lazy, worthless, stupid, weak, inferior, incompetent, and less deserving. Based on the IAT results, I believe that assessing institutional oppression may influence how I interact with my future clients and their communities.

Institutional oppression is demonstrated by how systems and institutions reinforce and manifest ideologies that promote explicit or implicit biases. As a macro social worker, my vision is to work with migrant, Black, and Latino communities experiencing marginalization and systemic racism. Institutional oppression may influence how I work with them in dismantling the reinforced ideologies that perpetuate prejudice and discrimination. Interpersonal oppression breeds both explicit and implicit biases. For instance, interpersonal sexism contributes to explicit/implicit sexual abuse or harassment of women and girls, such as making sexist jokes. Also, interpersonal racism contributes to individuals making racist jokes and stereotypes without thinking they hurt targeted individuals or groups. As a social worker, I need to appreciate that many individuals are not consciously oppressive but have internalized implicit biases and negative stereotypes that they consider normal when interacting with members of other social or cultural groups. Different populations experience oppressive conditions due to systemic discriminatory practices. To deal with racism, I need to work with people of color who have experienced systemic racism and marginalization. American racial biases permeate societal structures, institutional structures, and individual mental structures.

Cultural Competence and Cultural Humility

The U.S. is constantly undergoing major demographic changes, including shifts in the growth of Latino, Asian, Black, and other Native populations. The demographic changes challenge social workers to determine effective ways of engaging with culturally diverse populations. Diversity, more than ethnicity and race, includes the sociocultural experiences of individuals, including social class, national origin, color, immigration status, gender identity, age, marital status, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and physical/physical/mental disabilities. Social work services include addressing culturally appropriate and competent interventions, such as racial identity formation for people of color, the interrelationship among race, ethnicity, class, and gender, and working with low-income families and older adults, including appreciating the importance of spirituality and religion in the lives of clients and their communities. Equally, cultural competency enables the social worker to engage diverse populations in empowerment, community building, challenging explicit and implicit biases, practicing cultural humility, and promoting culturally adapted interventions.

Cultural competence involves acknowledging and accepting differences in behavior, appearance, and culture. Netting et al. (2017) acknowledge cultural competence as a product and a process that includes self-awareness and respect for diversity. Six points on a continuum of cultural competence suggest a process of growth in practitioner and agency awareness, skills, and knowledge. The first part of the competency continuum is cultural destructiveness, which Netting et al. (2017) define as the biases, policies, and practices that are destructive to individuals within cultures. The second point along the cultural competence continuum is cultural incapacity. Netting et al. (2017) define cultural incapacity as the condition in which a person, system, or agency cannot help members of different ethnic or cultural groups, including lacking respect towards their beliefs and traditions. The third point is cultural blindness, which involves believing that culture does not play an important role in developing solutions targeted towards marginalized ethnic or cultural groups. Netting et al. (2017) identify cultural pre-competence as the condition in which a macro social worker, agency, or system acknowledges their cultural deficiencies and begins to address them through hiring or outreach practices. Cultural pre-competence contributes to cultural competence. Cultural competence occurs when a macro social worker accepts and respects cultural differences and expands cultural knowledge and resources, leading to cultural proficiency. Netting et al. (2017) posit that cultural proficiency occurs when a social worker holds culture in high esteem, increases cultural knowledge, and enhances cultural practice through research.

Cultural humility in professional identity encourages self-evolvement to bridge the social distance and power imbalances between social workers and their clients’ systems. McLeod et al. (2016) identify cultural humility as the attitude and practice of engaging clients at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels with humility while learning, communicating, and making culturally-adaptive interventions. Cultural humility is a goal for cross-cultural practice. One of the components of cultural humility is having a life-long commitment to self-evaluation and self-critic. According to Netting et al. (2017), lifelong commitment to self-evaluation and critique involves assessing implicit and explicit biases and attitudes that influence how a social worker views a person, group, or community. As a social worker, I will use cultural humility to reflect on how my past experiences with clients from marginalized communities may have influenced my perception towards them. Besides, cultural humility’s component of resolving power imbalances play a vital role in macro social work practice. As a social worker, this component helps me to establish and sustain relationships that acknowledge and equalize the power imbalances. The last component of cultural humility emphasizes incorporating the target community’s perspectives when forming a partnership to avoid conflicts. For instance, when working with Black clients, I will ask them how they perceive some of the implicit biases that may damage effective non-paternalistic partnerships. Identifying those biases and stereotypes play a vital role in reducing conflicts and developing culturally-adaptive interventions.


Ahn, J. N., Hu, D., & Vega, M. (2019). “Do as I do, not as I say”: Using social learning theory to unpack the impact of role models on students’ outcomes in education. Social and Personality Psychology Compass14(2), 1-12.

Banaji, M. R., Fiske, S. T., & Massey, D. S. (2021). Systemic racism: Individuals and interactions, institutions and society. Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications6(1), 1-21.

Marini, M., Waterman, P. D., Breedlove, E., Chen, J. T., Testa, C., Reisner, S. L., Pardee, D. J., Mayer, K. H., & Krieger, N. (2021). The target/perpetrator brief-implicit association test (B-IAT): An implicit instrument for efficiently measuring discrimination based on race/ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, weight, and age. BMC Public Health21(1), 1-14.

McLeod, B. A., Gilmore, J., & Jones, J. T. (2016). Solutions to structural racism: One organization’s community-engaged approach in the aftermath of civil unrest. Social Work62(1), 77-79.

Netting, F. E., Kettner, P. M., McMurtry, S. L., & Thomas, M. L. (2016). Social work macro practice (6th ed.). Pearson.

Schlachter, S., & Rolf, S. (2016). Using the IAT: How do individuals respond to their results? International Journal of Social Research Methodology20(1), 77-92.


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