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  • Some years ago,

  • I was on an airplane with my son who was just five years old at the time.

  • My son was so excited about being on this airplane with Mommy.

  • He's looking all around and he's checking things out

  • and he's checking people out.

  • And he sees this man, and he says,

  • "Hey! That guy looks like Daddy!"

  • And I look at the man,

  • and he didn't look anything at all like my husband,

  • nothing at all.

  • And so then I start looking around on the plane,

  • and I notice this man was the only black guy on the plane.

  • And I thought,

  • "Alright.

  • I'm going to have to have a little talk with my son

  • about how not all black people look alike."

  • My son, he lifts his head up, and he says to me,

  • "I hope he doesn't rob the plane."

  • And I said, "What? What did you say?"

  • And he says, "Well, I hope that man doesn't rob the plane."

  • And I said, "Well, why would you say that?

  • You know Daddy wouldn't rob a plane."

  • And he says, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, well, I know."

  • And I said, "Well, why would you say that?"

  • And he looked at me with this really sad face,

  • and he says,

  • "I don't know why I said that.

  • I don't know why I was thinking that."

  • We are living with such severe racial stratification

  • that even a five-year-old can tell us what's supposed to happen next,

  • even with no evildoer,

  • even with no explicit hatred.

  • This association between blackness and crime

  • made its way into the mind of my five-year-old.

  • It makes its way into all of our children,

  • into all of us.

  • Our minds are shaped by the racial disparities

  • we see out in the world

  • and the narratives that help us to make sense of the disparities we see:

  • "Those people are criminal."

  • "Those people are violent."

  • "Those people are to be feared."

  • When my research team brought people into our lab

  • and exposed them to faces,

  • we found that exposure to black faces led them to see blurry images of guns

  • with greater clarity and speed.

  • Bias cannot only control what we see,

  • but where we look.

  • We found that prompting people to think of violent crime

  • can lead them to direct their eyes onto a black face

  • and away from a white face.

  • Prompting police officers to think of capturing and shooting

  • and arresting

  • leads their eyes to settle on black faces, too.

  • Bias can infect every aspect of our criminal justice system.

  • In a large data set of death-eligible defendants,

  • we found that looking more black more than doubled their chances

  • of receiving a death sentence --

  • at least when their victims were white.

  • This effect is significant,

  • even though we controlled for the severity of the crime

  • and the defendant's attractiveness.

  • And no matter what we controlled for,

  • we found that black people were punished

  • in proportion to the blackness of their physical features:

  • the more black,

  • the more death-worthy.

  • Bias can also influence how teachers discipline students.

  • My colleagues and I have found that teachers express a desire

  • to discipline a black middle school student more harshly

  • than a white student

  • for the same repeated infractions.

  • In a recent study,

  • we're finding that teachers treat black students as a group

  • but white students as individuals.

  • If, for example, one black student misbehaves

  • and then a different black student misbehaves a few days later,

  • the teacher responds to that second black student

  • as if he had misbehaved twice.

  • It's as though the sins of one child

  • get piled onto the other.

  • We create categories to make sense of the world,

  • to assert some control and coherence

  • to the stimuli that we're constantly being bombarded with.

  • Categorization and the bias that it seeds

  • allow our brains to make judgments more quickly and efficiently,

  • and we do this by instinctively relying on patterns

  • that seem predictable.

  • Yet, just as the categories we create allow us to make quick decisions,

  • they also reinforce bias.

  • So the very things that help us to see the world

  • also can blind us to it.

  • They render our choices effortless,

  • friction-free.

  • Yet they exact a heavy toll.

  • So what can we do?

  • We are all vulnerable to bias,

  • but we don't act on bias all the time.

  • There are certain conditions that can bring bias alive

  • and other conditions that can muffle it.

  • Let me give you an example.

  • Many people are familiar with the tech company Nextdoor.

  • So, their whole purpose is to create stronger, healthier, safer neighborhoods.

  • And so they offer this online space

  • where neighbors can gather and share information.

  • Yet, Nextdoor soon found that they had a problem

  • with racial profiling.

  • In the typical case,

  • people would look outside their window

  • and see a black man in their otherwise white neighborhood

  • and make the snap judgment that he was up to no good,

  • even when there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

  • In many ways, how we behave online

  • is a reflection of how we behave in the world.

  • But what we don't want to do is create an easy-to-use system

  • that can amplify bias and deepen racial disparities,

  • rather than dismantling them.

  • So the cofounder of Nextdoor reached out to me and to others

  • to try to figure out what to do.

  • And they realized that to curb racial profiling on the platform,

  • they were going to have to add friction;

  • that is, they were going to have to slow people down.

  • So Nextdoor had a choice to make,

  • and against every impulse,

  • they decided to add friction.

  • And they did this by adding a simple checklist.

  • There were three items on it.

  • First, they asked users to pause

  • and think, "What was this person doing that made him suspicious?"

  • The category "black man" is not grounds for suspicion.

  • Second, they asked users to describe the person's physical features,

  • not simply their race and gender.

  • Third, they realized that a lot of people

  • didn't seem to know what racial profiling was,

  • nor that they were engaging in it.

  • So Nextdoor provided them with a definition

  • and told them that it was strictly prohibited.

  • Most of you have seen those signs in airports

  • and in metro stations, "If you see something, say something."

  • Nextdoor tried modifying this.

  • "If you see something suspicious,

  • say something specific."

  • And using this strategy, by simply slowing people down,

  • Nextdoor was able to curb racial profiling by 75 percent.

  • Now, people often will say to me,

  • "You can't add friction in every situation, in every context,

  • and especially for people who make split-second decisions all the time."

  • But it turns out we can add friction

  • to more situations than we think.

  • Working with the Oakland Police Department

  • in California,

  • I and a number of my colleagues were able to help the department

  • to reduce the number of stops they made

  • of people who were not committing any serious crimes.

  • And we did this by pushing officers

  • to ask themselves a question before each and every stop they made:

  • "Is this stop intelligence-led,

  • yes or no?"

  • In other words,

  • do I have prior information to tie this particular person

  • to a specific crime?

  • By adding that question

  • to the form officers complete during a stop,

  • they slow down, they pause,

  • they think, "Why am I considering pulling this person over?"

  • In 2017, before we added that intelligence-led question to the form,

  • officers made about 32,000 stops across the city.

  • In that next year, with the addition of this question,

  • that fell to 19,000 stops.

  • African-American stops alone fell by 43 percent.

  • And stopping fewer black people did not make the city any more dangerous.

  • In fact, the crime rate continued to fall,

  • and the city became safer for everybody.

  • So one solution can come from reducing the number of unnecessary stops.

  • Another can come from improving the quality of the stops

  • officers do make.

  • And technology can help us here.

  • We all know about George Floyd's death,

  • because those who tried to come to his aid held cell phone cameras

  • to record that horrific, fatal encounter with the police.

  • But we have all sorts of technology that we're not putting to good use.

  • Police departments across the country

  • are now required to wear body-worn cameras

  • so we have recordings of not only the most extreme and horrific encounters

  • but of everyday interactions.

  • With an interdisciplinary team at Stanford,

  • we've begun to use machine learning techniques

  • to analyze large numbers of encounters.

  • This is to better understand what happens in routine traffic stops.

  • What we found was that

  • even when police officers are behaving professionally,

  • they speak to black drivers less respectfully than white drivers.

  • In fact, from the words officers use alone,

  • we could predict whether they were talking to a black driver or a white driver.

  • The problem is that the vast majority of the footage from these cameras

  • is not used by police departments

  • to understand what's going on on the street

  • or to train officers.

  • And that's a shame.

  • How does a routine stop turn into a deadly encounter?

  • How did this happen in George Floyd's case?

  • How did it happen in others?

  • When my eldest son was 16 years old,

  • he discovered that when white people look at him,

  • they feel fear.

  • Elevators are the worst, he said.

  • When those doors close,

  • people are trapped in this tiny space

  • with someone they have been taught to associate with danger.

  • My son senses their discomfort,

  • and he smiles to put them at ease,

  • to calm their fears.

  • When he speaks,

  • their bodies relax.

  • They breathe easier.

  • They take pleasure in his cadence,

  • his diction, his word choice.

  • He sounds like one of them.

  • I used to think that my son was a natural extrovert like his father.

  • But I realized at that moment, in that conversation,

  • that his smile was not a sign that he wanted to connect

  • with would-be strangers.

  • It was a talisman he used to protect himself,

  • a survival skill he had honed over thousands of elevator rides.

  • He was learning to accommodate the tension that his skin color generated

  • and that put his own life at risk.

  • We know that the brain is wired for bias,

  • and one way to interrupt that bias is to pause and to reflect

  • on the evidence of our assumptions.

  • So we need to ask ourselves:

  • What assumptions do we bring when we step onto an elevator?

  • Or an airplane?

  • How do we make ourselves aware of our own unconscious bias?

  • Who do those assumptions keep safe?

  • Who do they put at risk?

  • Until we ask these questions

  • and insist that our schools and our courts and our police departments

  • and every institution do the same,

  • we will continue to allow bias

  • to blind us.

  • And if we do,

  • none of us are truly safe.

  • Thank you.

Some years ago,