Monday, June 12, 2017

Cross-examination of Nicholas Rule on Racial Bias in Judgments of Physical Size and Formidability

By Selwyn A. Pieters, B.A., LL.B., L.E.C.
Lawyer & Notary Public (Ontario, Canada)
Attorney-at-Law (Republic of Guyana, Island of Trinidad)
Created June 12, 2017

On June 12, 2017, at the Andrew Loku Inquest I crossed examined Professor Nicholas Rule on an article he coauthored: Wilson, J. P., Hugenberg, K., & Rule, N. O Racial Bias in Judgments of Physical Size and Formidability: From Size to Threat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.Advance online publication.

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          Q.   Good afternoon, Dr. Rule.
A.   Good afternoon.
          Q.   I am Selwyn Pieters.  I represent the Black Action Defence Committee.  Now, you spoke about implicit bias as perceiving or having Black men stereotyped as angry and aggressive.
A.   I did.  Yes.
          Q.   And you spoke about the shift of Black men being happy go lucky or Black people being perceived as happy-go-lucky people.
A.   That’s right.
          Q.   Right.  This angry and aggressive posture that comes from implicit bias, would you say that that is something that infects society as a whole?
A.   It certainly affects society as a whole, yes.
          Q.   Then so if that is the case, then the fear of a Black man is based on implicit thought processes rather than objective fear, would you agree?
A.   I would agree.
          Q.   You mentioned a shopping mall example with respect to a wallet and a gun.  You recall that?
A.   I do.
          Q.   And you mentioned that it is likely that the perception would be the Black person having the gun?
A.   That’s what the studies have shown, yes.
          Q.   Right.  So, if that situation is replicated in real life in a shopping mall where a White man has a gun and the Black man has the wallet, would it be the case, taking what you said or say -- the association of black with crime is and implicit association of Black people with crime -- that the Black person would be at risk of violence from the police or a negative reaction?
A.   You mean as opposed to the White person --
          Q.   Yes.
A.   -- with the gun?  I don’t know that it would necessarily go that far, actually.  So I think that it would be more likely that the presence of an actual gun would be a more salient stimulus to draw attention.  So I -- it is -- the studies do show that people are more likely to mistake the wallet for a gun in the hands of Black person and that they’re then faster to make a shoot decision, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they would mistake a gun for a wallet per se in the case of a White person.
          Q.   Very well.  You’re familiar with the Diallo situation in the U.S. where a Black man was shot taking a wallet out of his pocket?
A.   I am.
          Q.   Very well.  You mentioned, you spoke about implicit bias and then you spoke about implicit racism.
A.   That’s right.
          Q.   Define implicit racism for us.
A.   Implicit racism would be beliefs about a group defined by its race that are held implicitly and are of negative valence against that group.
          Q.   Very well.  Now ---
A.   If I can -- I would say implicit racism is a specific type of implicit bias.
          Q.   But it’s racism nonetheless?
A.   That’s right.  Yes.
          Q.   Right.  Would you say it’s possible for Toronto Police to compile social science data on implicit bias in relation to individual officers from the time they join the force and as they progress through the force?
A.   It is certainly possible for us to measure implicit associations held by a particular individual and to track those for changes over time.
          Q.   What about systemically within the organization?
A.   Within the organization you would need to make those individual assessments and then you could perhaps aggregate them to say that, you know, a given group of individuals is more prone towards a particular level of bias.  Though, I don’t know that that would necessarily constitute the same idea as an institutionally endorsed or a reiterated notion.
          Q.   I’m going to put some propositions to you and you can tell me whether you agree or whether you disagree or you can explain it.
A.   Sure.
          Q.   I’m going to suggest to that the perpetuation or the perpetration of implicit bias is a form of violence based on what you described today in respect to how Black men are perceived and treated.  
A.   It would depend on the way that one defines violence.  If one defines violence as a physical behaviour then I would not agree.  If one defines violence as, you know, including aggressive thoughts, that might be possible.  However, I might still disagree, actually, because I think in that case they would need to be conscious thoughts for them to be considered violent.
          Q.   Yes.  But if someone has implicit thoughts of violence against someone, are you saying that that would be excused?
A.   No.  I don’t think that one would necessarily have implicit thoughts of violence.  So, the nature of the way that, you know, a human would think about violence or particular actions wouldn’t necessarily be at an implicit level.  Those would have to occur somewhat more explicitly.  The implicit level would simply be the associations between two concepts, so it’s a -- it’s a much more basic thing.  But to actually consider a violent act, or any behaviour of that sort, would require a -- an either explicit or semi-explicit level, I think.
          Q.   I take it from your testimony, you can agree, disagree or explain it, that this implicit bias that you spoke about and that you researched and wrote about, it perpetrates oppression against a specific race and that’s Black people.
A.   I think I could agree with that.
          Q.   I also take it from your study and what you said today that the relationship between discrimination on the basis -- there is a relationship between discrimination on the basis of race and implicit bias?
A.   There is and that would be implicit racism.
          Q.   And that there is a relationship between prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination and implicit bias?
A.   There certainly is, yes.
          Q.   And that discriminatory attitudes and implicit bias are mutually exclusive?  Or they go -- sorry, not mutually exclusive.  They go hand in hand?
A.   Yes.  But not in a bidirectional manner.  So, as I said earlier, implicit bias would be present when there are discriminatory attitudes, but implicit bias can be present without discriminatory attitudes as well.
          Q.   You said something here and I’m going to put something to you and you can tell me what your position is.  You said we favour people who look like us in very important ways. 
A.   That’s right.
          Q.   So, I’m going to put this to you: Colour blindness and excuses are the means by which the dominant group maintains its position.  I can put it differently.
THE CORONER:  Perhaps if you did rephrase it might be easier for the witness. 
          Q.   If what you said today in evidence is true and this implicit bias has its most virulent or its most devastating impact on Black people, let’s say in Canada or in Toronto, then we can’t really boil down implicit bias or any of these things in a colour-blind way.
A.   Well, what I can say about colour blindness is that it’s typically regarded as an ineffective strategy for dealing with race relations.  Colour blindness typically -- so the idea of colour blindness is the notion that if we ignore differences between groups -- in this case racial groups, groups defined by colour differences, typically -- that there won’t be problems.  That if we just, you know, if we don’t see the differences then there aren’t issues to discuss.  The data have clearly shown that that is not effective but rather it masks the underlying issues.  But rather an approach that acknowledges differences and discusses those differences is more effective for ameliorating any discrepancies that are based on those differences.
THE CORONER:  Mr. Pieters, a time warning.  You have two minutes.
MR. PIETERS:  Very well.  I’m going to finish way before then, Dr. Carlisle.
THE CORONER:  Anything you can do to help.
          Q.   What effect does denial from a systemic level, for example, a president of a police association denying that police act on implicit biases, have on managing that association or managing its members in dealing with issues of implicit bias or racism?
A.   I think that that would likely be problematic.  I think any time that -- if we’re truly discussing denial as a concept whereby one knows one thing but does not wish to accept it, as denial is often used in the psychological literature, then that wouldn’t be -- that is not a productive step towards making any kind of change.  It’s important that one acknowledges a phenomenon before one can potentially even deal with.
          Q.   What would be your recommendation to the jury for a police service to confront this issue and deal with it?
A.   That’s a very big question.  I think that, you know, if there are differences in the way that suspects are being treating on the basis of their race, then certainly an examination is required to understand why this is occurring, how it’s occurring and then steps would need to be taken.  If it’s determined that this is based on implicit biases, that is associations or expectations that people from one racial group are more prone to criminal behaviour than another, then some of the training exercises that we discussed earlier today might be appropriate for attempting to correct those biases.
          Q.   Than you, Dr. Carlisle.  Thank you, Dr. Rule.
A.   Thank you. 

THE CORONER:  Thank you, Mr. Pieters.
See also, Wendy Gillis, Black men perceived as more threatening, expert tells Andrew Loku inquest, Toronto Star, June 12, 2017

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