Despite being boycotted by several countries, the UN convention on racism opens in Geneva on Monday. A hard topic to tackle; racism exists under many forms, in every continent, and to varying degrees. But how do you know if you're racist?
Harvard University's online Implicit Associations Test, developed in 1998 and updated for the US elections 2008, claims to scientifically measure your racist tendencies. After selecting your home country, a tutorial presents the questionnaire. Test takers have to tick faces by labelling them with a ‘good' or ‘bad', and in the quickest time possible.
It's a highly controversial method. It cannot distinguish how the person behaves in reality and cannot take into account whether the time delay is due to a hatred of minorities or a guilty conscience towards them. With a bit of training, it can easily be manipulated.
"The less time you have to answer the less there is left for political correctness"
Jean-François Amadieu is a professor of Management Sciences at the University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne, where he also heads the Discriminations Observatory. He has produced a number of tests similar to Harvard's.
These tests are interesting because they tend to reveal stereotypes. In general, they are quite reliable because if one fails to answer quickly enough, the test is cancelled within a few milliseconds. Scientists have devised a system that calculates your average speed over the first few seconds. Any change of pace over the rest of the questionnaire is then easily detected.
The idea is that the less time you have to answer the less there is left for political correctness. The AIT (Associations Implicit Tests) encourage spontaneity. Explicit tests, on the other hand, tend to allow too much time to reflect. But it's important to know that the tests put on line by Harvard are only trials. The full test is longer and much more complex.
The results can be useful to researchers specialised in stereotyping, but also to those people who might be unaware that they are spreading certain stereotypes. They can also be used by employers keen to be more objective. Indeed, the test can help you determine how prejudice might influence your choice of employee someone - for instance how you react to a name or a physical trait - and therefore address the problem."
And you, are you racist?