Ingroup Implicit Biases. Yes, they are a thing.

During the week of October 22 – October 26, 2018, LISP-SIS, RIP-SIS, BCAALL, and the AALL Diversity & Inclusion Committee held an online conversation addressing diversity and inclusion within law libraries. During the 5-day discussion, selected facilitators posed questions on diversity to online participants regarding the overarching topics of staff training, library resources, addressing discrimination issues, and hiring and retention policies. Participation was fruitful, and the discussion was open and informative. It was the highlight of my week to watch law librarians from all different backgrounds share their experiences, policies, and ideas in a concerted effort to increase awareness of diversity issues within our law libraries.

On Day 4 of the 5-day discussion, the topic of implicit bias arose. During this discussion, a few members referenced a subcategory of the topic that is very rarely discussed whenever these conversations occur: ingroup implicit biases. Also referred to as ingroup favoritism, social psychologists have recognized and labeled our tendency to favor or be more positive towards members of our own ingroups.

Although ingroup implicit biases are more commonly pro-ingroup, there are times when members of an ingroup can be more critical to members of their ingroup as opposed to similarly situated members of their outgroup. This is referred to by social psychologists as ingroup derogation, more commonly known as the black sheep effect.

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There are different theories to explain this behavior. Some social psychologists theorize that ingroup derogation against certain members is a form of group protection that eliminates individuals who may negatively impact the group. Others consider it an individual protection—disassociating members that seem unfavorable to protect against miscast associations against the whole, and thereby, against the individual. Regardless of its internal origins, ingroup derogation does exist.

The ingroups we identify with are not monolithic. Using myself as an example, I identify as a Black American. However, in my ingroup, I distinguish myself as Caribbean American. Other Black Americans in this ingroup include African Americans—descendants of African ancestors who were brought to the Americas as slaves—and African Americans—African immigrants to the United States, and their immediate first- or second- generation relatives. Our Black American experiences are not one and the same, and our distinguishing cultural attributes have raised discussions of explicit and implicit biases between our sub-ingroups.

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This phenomenon is not found only in Black American ingroups. It expands to Asian ingroups, Latinx ingroups, and even outside racial ingroups to religious, gender, and sexuality ingroups. Differences are prevalent in every ingroup. Although we are more closely related to those in our ingroup than to those we consider our outgroup, we must still acknowledge these differences to recognize our unconscious responses to what we may perceive as either positive or negative characteristics within our own inner circles.

By definition, implicit biases alone are difficult to recognize. They are unconscious attitudes—known unknowns affecting our behavior in ways that we are unaware of, and that we now find ourselves responsible for addressing internally. Implicit biases against our own ingroup add a secondary level of difficulty to recognize when encountered. It is extraordinarily difficult to acknowledge an internal bias you would never believe yourself capable of.

I appreciate that we as a people are recognizing that our experiences are not the end-all-be-all-of our ingroups. Unpacking the diverse groups within our ingroups is just another level of welcoming inclusivity into our lives and workplaces. The deeper we acknowledge these distinctions, the more conscious we become of our attitudes and actions in all of our social interactions, and the more capable we are of combating implicit biases.

Thank you to the interest groups and committees who took the time to carve out this digital safe space for law librarians to discuss these important issues within the workplace. Thank you to the courageous participants who shared your stories, your questions, and your fears in order to broaden our perceptions and make our law libraries safer, more welcoming, and inclusive space for our students, faculty, and patrons.


[1] Nilanjana Dasgupta, Implicit Ingroup Favoritism, Outgroup Favoritism, and Their Behavioral Manifestations, 17 Social Justice Research 143-169 (2004).

[2] Scott Eidelman & Monica Biernat, Derogating black sheep: Individual or group protection?, 39 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 602-609 (2003).

[3] Eidelman, et al. (2003); see also, Bentley L. Gibson et al., Sources of implicit and explicit intergroup race bias among African-American children and young adults, 12 PLOS ONE (2017).

This entry was posted in Career, Continuing Education, Issues in Law Librarianship, Issues in Librarianship (generally), RIPS blog, RIPS Committees, RIPS events, Training, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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