Eva Paterson’s BBC Radio Interview on Racism and Obama

BBC Radio’s Mark Forrest talks with EJS President Eva Paterson following reports this week that a staffer for a Republican state Senator in Tennessee sent an email with an image showing portraits of our presidents, except President Obama is depicted only with two eyeballs on a solid black background.

As reported by numerous outlets, including HuffPo, Newscoma and Nashville is Taking, Sherri Goforth, an executive assistant for Tennessee State Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin), sent this picture out to other legislative staffers:


Eva talks about the role of unconscious bias in how racism is manifested today and also about her movie, Presidential Race, which examines how far we have come in the forty-six years since Martin Luther King electrified the country with his “I Have A Dream” speech.

Listen to the interview here (go to the 3:11:48 mark):

EJS’s profound interest in the science of unconscious bias is a key component of our long-range initiative to dismantle the Intent Doctrine. In 1976, just a few years after Justice William Rehnquist joined the bench, Washington v. Davis was decided, placing a nearly insurmountable hurdle in the way of plaintiffs seeking redress for discrimination.

This decision placed a prohibitive burden on victims of discrimination and limited the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by restricting its remedial reach to cases in which the plaintiff could prove a decision-maker’s specific “intent” to discriminate.

Racial justice is impossible to achieve when the law fails to reflect the actual experiences of communities who have seen and felt discrimination. Social psychologists, critical sociologists and other social scientists have developed empirical and theoretical research showing that the Intent Doctrine fails to reflect how a large part of discrimination actually occurs.

According to these studies, all of us have unconscious biases that influence how we perceive and make decisions about other people. Individual and institutional discrimination, often guided by these cognitive biases and stereotypes, can occur even in the absence of blatant prejudice. Many of these powerful theories and studies, however, are not being fully utilized on the front lines of political debate or courtrooms by legal advocates.

In order to provide lawyers with the necessary tools to challenge the faulty assumptions of the Intent Doctrine, the Equal Justice Society brings together social scientists, lawyers, pollsters, legal academics and students to develop long-term strategies for introducing a more accurate understanding of discrimination into the law. Most Americans do not want to be racist and do not think they act in racially biased ways.

Not only does our promoting of the unconscious bias framework support our work to dismantle Intent, but it also allows for a more engaging approach to address racism – i.e., promoting unconscious bias takes a “building awareness” rather than a “blaming” approach.

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