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Study says whites prefer African Americans over Blacks

24th November 2014   ·   0 Comments

A new study suggests that Whites make clear distinctions between Blacks and African Americans. The study, which challenges the myth of a post-racial America after the election of President Barack Obama, found that whites are more accepting of African Americans than they are of Blacks.

Interestingly, the study’s findings were released just weeks after a controversial interview during which actress Ravyn Symone told Oprah Winfrey that she is Black, not African-American.

Researchers concluded that the way people of African descent are labeled can significantly impact how they are perceived by mainstream society.

In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, a research team led by Emory University’s Erika Hall contends that “the racial label ‘Black’ evokes a mental representation of a person with lower socioeconomic status than the racial label ‘African-American.’”

“The content embedded in the Black stereotype is generally more negative, and less warm and competent, than that in the African-American stereotype,” the researchers write. “These different associations carry consequences for how whites perceive Americans of African descent who are labeled with either term.”

Hall and her colleagues demonstrated this phenomenon, and its implications, in a series of experiments. In the first, 106 white respondents were given a list of 75 traits such as “athletic,” “aggressive,” and “bold,” and asked to choose the 10 they felt were most descriptive of a specific group of people they were randomly assigned to evaluate. One-quarter of them selected the best traits for Blacks, while others did the same for Africans Americans, whites, and Caucasians.

“The stereotype content for Blacks was significantly more negative than for African Americans,” the resear­chers concluded. “In contrast, the stereotype content for African Ameri­cans did not significantly differ in perceived negativity from that of whites.”

In the second experiment, 110 whites were randomly assigned to view, and complete, a profile of a male Chicago resident who was identified as either Black or African-American. They estimated the Black person’s income and education level to be lower than that of the African American’s, and were far more likely to think of the African American as being in a managerial position at his workplace.

In another experiment, 90 whites “expressed more negative emotions” toward a 29-year-old crime suspect when he was identified as Black rather than African-American. The results suggest “the label Black elicits more negative emotions than the label African-American,” the researchers observed, “but African-American does not elicit positive emotion.”

Hall and her colleagues noted that their findings have strong implications for the criminal justice system, where justice advocates say people of color and low-income defendants are routinely given harsher sentences than their white counterparts. “The choice of racial labels used in courtroom proceedings could affect how jurors interpret the facts of a case and make judicial decisions,” the researchers said. “Black defendants may be more easily convicted in a court of law than African-American defendants.”

The association of blackness with evil and a host of negative characteristics is a phenomenon that dates back to the days of William Shakes­peare when the famed writer associated the color black with filth, treachery and bestiality in his plays and sonnets. The color white, on the other hand, was associated with purity and virtue.

The study’s findings make it easier to understand a puzzling reality: How racial stereotyping and prejudice remain a serious issue even in an era where so many Black people are in positions of authority and prestige — including President Barack Obama. If such exceptional people are seen as “African-American” as opposed to “Black,” it’s easy to hold onto one’s negative assumptions about the latter group.

The study underscores how words that are often used interchangeably to describe people of African descent can have major implications for their personal and professional lives.

This article originally published in the November 24, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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