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Neuro-Visions of the Prejudiced Mind: Neuroscience and the Search to ‘Cure’ Racism

Sat, September 2, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Sheraton Boston, 3, Kent


Implicit bias research contends that indirect measures of attitudes or beliefs can be employed to capture an individual’s buried stereotypes about a specific phenomenon or social group. Today, neuro-psychologists interested in questions about race and racism are utilizing neuroimaging technologies as a more precise way to test for and measure implicit neural correlates of such behaviors. Unlike racial science of the past, these researchers contend that neuroimaging captures how our brains process the socially constructed nature of race, and the neural mechanism that monitor and regulate our hidden biases. In this paper, I investigate the goals and challenges of using neuroimaging to address racism. I show that neuroscience research on implicit racial bias has biomedicalized racism as the dysregulation of an otherwise normally functioning brain. These neuroscientists have put forth a particular “sociotechnical imaginary” (Jasanoff and Kim 2009) of both race and racism; an anticipatory vision that may help create a new kind of (neuro)biological citizen, in which misperceptions about race will only be knowable and/or potentially “cured” through a neuro-vision. I trace the development of potential neuro-interventions for racism and assess the biopolitical impacts of these technoscientific practices. While we should take seriously these attempts to better address prejudice and bias, I argue that we cannot incorporate these neuro-knowledges into policies and/or interventions that emphasize implicit bias at the individual level without the risk of unintentionally overshadowing, overlooking or even excusing larger more systemic discourses and practices that engender and reconstitute existing social hierarchies of race.


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