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THE ACADEMIC SWOON OVER IMPLICIT RACIAL BIAS: Costs, Benefits, and Other Considerations

  • Katheryn Russell-Brown (a1)


In recent years, there has been a surge of discussion, debate, and research on the topic of implicit bias. Implicit bias has become the go-to form of racial bias that many academics, practitioners, and policy makers have identified as important and timely to study (Eberhardt et al., 2004; Levinson and Smith, 2017). Interventions to address implicit racial bias in policing have been particularly popular (Fridell 2008). Arguably, combatting implicit racial bias presents itself as a tool for protecting civil rights. This essay examines the emergence of the implicit bias paradigm as a way to address racial bias in justice system outcomes. The first part provides an overview of implicit bias, including how it is defined, how it is measured, and how it impacts the justice system. The second part examines the term “implicit bias.” This section assesses implicit bias as a social problem and considers whether the label illuminates or obscures the reality of racial bias in the criminal justice system. The discussion considers whether “implicit bias” is viewed as a more appealing approach for dealing with racial bias because it does not assign racial blame. The third part considers the contours of the relationship between implicit bias and explicit bias. The discussion highlights the interconnectedness between the two forms of racial bias. Is the implicit bias approach a signal of racial retrenchment? The final section considers how elementary and secondary education could be used as a proactive strategy for addressing implicit racial bias.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Katheryn Russell-Brown, University of Florida, Levin College of Law, 2500 SW Second Avenue, Gainesville, FL 32611. E-mail:


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