Skip to main content
Newsroom Press release

Racial Anxiety and Unconscious Bias: How It Affects Us All

What: As part of the “Talking About Race” series, Rachel Godsil, director of research at the American Values Institute, and Alan Jenkins, executive director of the Opportunity Agenda, will present some of the most recent research and reports on racial anxiety and unconscious bias and discuss their impact throughout society.

When: 7 p.m., Thursday, September 13

Where: Enoch Pratt Free Library
Wheeler Auditorium
400 Cathedral Street, Baltimore

BALTIMORE—Despite the many strides the United States has made in the name of equality, we still do not live in a “post-racial society.” Racism continues to be a major factor in our communities, and African-Americans are still at a significant disadvantage when it comes to education, employment, economics, and our criminal justice system.

An enormous amount of research and data reveal that, in many cases, racism—the kind that is usually not well acknowledged or recognized—actually does hold groups and individuals back. It stems from something more personal in every one of us: unconscious bias, a phenomenon that affects our day-to-day decision-making even though we are not aware of it. Couple that with unconscious racial anxiety and the situation becomes even more troubling.

Research shows that sometimes, even when our conscious selves feel or want to feel differently, our behavior is laced with these feelings that are hidden below the surface.

OSI-Baltimore’s “Talking About Race” series has sparked a citywide dialogue about race and bias. Speakers have addressed the topic from different perspectives and explored why it is important to discuss such issues openly and intelligently.

In this free public event, Alan Jenkins, executive director of the Opportunity Agenda, will join Rachel Godsil, research director for the American Values Institute and a professor of law at Seton Hall University, in presenting some of the most recent research and reports on racial anxiety and unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias affects us all, Godsil and Jenkins say. And it has influence over everyone's behavior, including those in positions of power such as teachers, judges, police officers, and doctors. The American Values Institute studied research specifically focused on black males, much of which has recently been collected and published by the Opportunity Agenda in Opportunity for Black Men and Boys: Public Opinion Media Depictions, and Media Consumption.

“There’s a disjuncture between the conscious part of our mind that we have access to, and the automatic part that does all the work,” Godsil says. “If we have things in our mind that we expect to see, that’s what we will see.”

The Opportunity Agenda report, a thorough study of research and attitudes, shows that such implicit bias has serious ramifications.

“The studies reviewed paint a picture of a world in which black male lives and experience are distorted in public communications, in ways that lead to distorted understandings and attitudes towards them, and ultimately to serious obstacles to success and happiness in the real world,” the report states.

Studies also show that police officers are more likely to use excessive force against black men, and that black boys often are perceived to be older—and therefore, scarier—than they actually are. Some judges give harsher sentences to black boys for committing the same crimes as white boys. One disturbing study showed that men perceived as merely “looking black” were more likely to be sentenced to death in murder cases.

In reality, the majority of black men in the United States are employed, have never been convicted of a crime, and are involved in their children’s lives. Their sons are in school, behave respectfully, value family, and help out at home. Although stereotypes might suggest otherwise, 92 percent of black men with college degrees are employed, and a quarter of employed black men are working in professional careers or in managerial positions.

There is some good news: Godsil has concluded that unconscious bias can be overcome if truthful information is well circulated and people are made aware that we all are guilty of being unconsciously biased.


As the only field office for the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs, the Open Society Institute-Baltimore focuses on the root causes of three intertwined problems in our city and state: drug addiction, an overreliance on incarceration, and obstacles that keep youth from succeeding both inside and outside the classroom. We also support a growing corps of social entrepreneurs committed to underserved populations in Baltimore. Before we make a single grant, we analyze the root causes of a problem and examine research and innovative practices aimed at tackling the problem. Because we aim for lasting, sustainable solutions, we engage public and private partners from the start. It is only then, with a clear picture of the problem, that we begin to focus our approach and diligently craft a road map for change. 

Subscribe to updates about Open Society’s work around the world

By entering your email address and clicking “Submit,” you agree to receive updates from the Open Society Foundations about our work. To learn more about how we use and protect your personal data, please view our privacy policy.