educing personal or institutional racial bias without first admitting it exists. That message was delivered by Connecticut Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson during “A Conversation on Race,” held Thursday evening at Connecticut College.
The first black man to serve as chief justice, which in Connecticut has the added responsibility of directing the Judicial Branch, Robinson has experienced discrimination, both subtle and direct. He discussed the frustration about the times he is judged by something as superficial as skin color by people oblivious to his personal achievements.
People need to accept that they make assessments about individuals based on first impressions, including race and ethnicity, Robinson told his packed audience of about 350 people in Evans Hall at the Cummings Art Center. Acknowledging this human reality can be a first step in guarding against making judgments based on stereotypes.
Breaking down those stereotypes that contribute to biases can begin with a conversation, which is exactly what The Day and its partner, Connecticut College, seeks to provide in a series of dialogues on the topic. Robinson urged people to reach outside their comfort zones, to welcome, even pursue, relationships with people different from them.
Bias contributes to inequitable treatment in the criminal-justice system, to differences in career and housing opportunities. Laws may now be on the books prohibiting explicit discrimination in hiring and housing, but to claim discrimination has been eliminated is to deny reality. Robinson gave the example of a young black woman in a law firm where a white senior partner prizes the relationships he forms on the golf course - relationships that can drive decisions on who becomes partners - but does not even consider involving the young woman. She doesn’t fit his golfing stereotype.
“Now you can say you didn’t exclude her because she was black - but you did,” said Robinson.
Questioned during the forum by The Day’s veteran court reporter, Karen Florin - with many of the queries provided by our readers - Robinson gave some insight into the implicit bias training he has provided to people in the legal system for the past 15 years.