Research Brief: Race, Perception, Reality

I attended the #FacingRace14 conference and I’m still processing that experience, but one of the most interesting breakout sessions I attended was about research on language, perceptions and “racial anxiety.” So, I’m using that as a jumping off point to share some related research in today’s research brief.  As always, I note which pieces are freely available on the web, or “open access” with (OA), and those behind a paywall with (locked).

Research in the Dictionary

  • Godsil,Rachel D., Philip Atiba Goff, Linda Tropp and john a. powell,  The Science of Equality Volume 1: Addressing Implicit Bias, Racial Anxiety, and Stereotype Threat in Education and Health Care. (Report, Perception Institute, 2013). Abstract: Synthesizing hundreds of studies, this report details how unconscious phenomena in our minds–implicit bias, racial anxiety, and stereotype threat–impact our education and health care systems, while offering empirical, research-driven solutions to overcome their effects. (OA)
  • Hall, Erika V., Katherine W. Phillips, and Sarah SM Townsend. “A rose by any other name?: The consequences of subtyping “African-Americans” from “Blacks”.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 56 (2015): 183-190. Abstract: Racial labels often define how social groups are perceived. The current research utilized both archival and experimental methods to explore the consequences of the “Black” vs. “African-American” racial labels on Whites’ evaluations of racial minorities. We argue that the racial label Black evokes a mental representation of a person with lower socioeconomic status than the racial label African-American, and that Whites will react more negatively toward Blacks (vs. African-Americans). In Study 1, we show that the stereotype content for Blacks (vs. African-Americans) is lower in status, positivity, competence, and warmth. In Study 2, Whites view a target as lower status when he is identified as Black vs. African-American. In Study 3, we demonstrate that the use of the label Black vs. African-American in a US Newspaper crime report article is associated with a negative emotional tone in that respective article. Finally, in Study 4, we show that Whites view a criminal suspect more negatively when he is identified as Black vs. African-American. The results establish how racial labels can have material consequences for a group. (locked)
  • powell, john a. Racing to Justice: Transforming Our Conceptions of Self and Other to Build an Inclusive Society. (Indiana University Press, 2012). Short description: Meditations on race, identity, and social policy provide an outline for laying claim to our shared humanity and a way toward healing ourselves and securing our future. The book challenges us to replace attitudes and institutions that promote and perpetuate social suffering with those that foster relationships and a way of being that transcends disconnection and separation. (locked)


Happy reading!

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  1. Joe

    Sadly, the HAAS report above does not deal with research on structural and systemic racism, and is much too psychologically oriented. The problem is not just “prejudice” and “stereotyping,” or “perceptions,” it is also the many other features of the white racial framing of this society (white-racist images, racist narratives, racist emotions, etc)–which make up a white worldview and character structure. Why don’t they engage this important insight and its substantiating research? And they really seem afraid of naming and analyzing the real villains who have the most power to create, maintain, and change systemic racism: elite white men. There is not a single mention in the text of white elites, elite, white men??

    • Jessie Author

      Yes, strikes me as not critical enough.

      One of the things I found persuasive in hearing some of this research presented is that there is real, measurable “racial anxiety” that causes whites + POC to become anxious in discussions of racism, but in different directions.

      Whites become anxious that they will be called ‘racist’ (apparently the worst thing to be called in our society, second only to ‘pedophile’) – and, people of color get a double-whammy of being called ‘racist’ for even mentioning race (as one woman of color who regularly appears on FoxNews) and people of color also become anxious that someone will say something that ‘invalidates their whole life experience,’ as one woman said.

      So, how to have these conversations without freaking people out and having them shut down? Some of the ‘frameworks’ research suggests using different language, which is a big focus of the research presented at this conference.

      This seems to suggest that ‘being kind’ and ‘asking nicely’ will ‘move us forward’ toward racial justice, but it seems to miss the very real, material interests (white elites) for whom the current system works just fine.


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