Seminar: Whiteliness and Institutional Racism: Hiding Behind Unconscious Bias

Updated: Sep 8, 2020

CriSHET [Re] Directions Seminar | Shirley Anne Tate


This seminar is part of the [Re] Directions/Ukutshintshwa Kwendlela: Knowledge, Praxes and the African-purposed Curriculum seminar series hosted by the Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation (CriSHET). It was hosted in July 2018, at the Bird Street Campus Art Gallery Drawing Room, Nelson Mandela University.



Unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgements and assessments of people and situations without us realising. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. We may not even be aware of these views and opinions, or be aware of their full impact and implications (Equality Challenge Unit, 2017).


This presentation speaks against this point of view by arguing that bias is not unconscious but instead is linked to Charles Mills’ (1997) ‘Racial Contract’ and its ‘epistemologies of ignorance’. These epistemologies of ignorance emerge from what the ECU’s calls ‘our background, cultural environment and personal experience.’ As such, asserting that racism stems from ‘unconscious bias’ diminishes white supremacy and maintains white innocence as a will to forget institutional racism. In equality and diversity training, ‘unconscious bias’ has become a technology of institutional surveillance; it has become a simulation attempting to move beyond a racialized reality to where ‘we all know better’ because we have been trained to participate in a ‘post-racial’ (Goldberg, 2015) hyper-reality.


Prof Shirley Anne Tate therefore argues that it is through decolonizing ‘unconscious bias’, ‘white fragility’ and ‘self-forgiveness’ that we can begin to see hidden institutional whiteliness at the base of such bias. Prof Tate is a Professor of Race and Education at Leeds Beckett University (the first appointment of its kind in the UK) and Honorary Professor at CriSHET, Nelson Mandela University.


To find out more about the work CriSHET does, visit us here.

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