Discrimination Against Blacks Linked to Dehumanization
The United States has a shameful history of dehumanizing Black Americans[...]In fact, the very first article of the U. S. Constitution declares that, when determining state populations, “all other persons”— by which it meant enslaved Africans—should be counted as three fifths of a human being. The formal dehumanizing language used in the laws of this developing nation [USA] reflected the biases present in the majority population.
So opens a recent publication by Stanford, Penn State, and UC Berkeley psychologists. Their work aimed to answer: "Is it possible to hold an implicit association between apes and Blacks if one is unaware that such an association ever existed?" In other words, do people inherently associate "apes" with black people, even if they have had no experience with any such association.
The representation of blacks as apes has been on the cultural conscience of westerners since shortly after the first contact of Europeans with West Africa. "Early European maritime writings described primitive people who seemed more closely related to apes than to White explorers."
The research team set up a number principal studies, using white university students as subjects:
- Is there an implicit association between Blacks and apes? If so, is this association present for both whites and non-whites?
- Does such an association exist solely for Blacks, or other racial groups (i.e. Asians)?
After priming members of three test groups that were shown a black person's face, a white face, or no face, they then showed the white test subjects degraded images of animals. Slowly, the animal frame become less distorted (more true to the animal's image). Interestingly, it took the test subjects fewer frames to recognize the ape after being primed with a Black face than no face, and more frames when primed with a white face than the control. When showed a on-ape image, there were no differences between priming conditions.
The authors then performed a dot-latency test, "In the present study, we presented participants with two faces on the computer screen simultaneously (one Black and one White face). These faces disappeared, and a dot probe appeared in the place where one of the faces used to be. The participant was asked to locate the dot probe as quickly as possible on the computer and to use one of two response keys to indicate whether it was on the left or the right of a centered focus dot. As is traditional in dot-probe studies, we used the time it took participants to locate the dot probe as a proxy for visual attention."
Their results: when white subjects were shown no ape, they located the dot where the white face has been positioned more then three times faster than where the black faces were. Furthermore, when primed with a ape image, the trend was reversed: dots where black faces had been were identified nearly twice as fast. When presented with an Asian face instead of a White face, there was no difference in reaction time when not primed with an ape image. However, when primed, the same was true as for the white face (although to a lesser extent, ~30% faster).
Interestingly, when subjected received an "ape" or "big cat" (i.e. other animal, unrelated to an ape)word prime, they were more likely to sympathize with videos of police beatings ofblacks than Whites (i.e. they were more likely to claim the beating was justified for Blacks then Whites). When primed with a "big cat", there as no difference.
"Despite widespread opposition to racism, bias remains with us," Eberhardt [an author on the study ]said. "African Americans are still dehumanized; we're still associated with apes in this country. That association can lead people to endorse the beating of black suspects by police officers, and I think it has lots of other consequences that we have yet to uncover."
Reference: Goff, P.A. et al. (2008). Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94: 292-306.
Karen Hatter's What's Wrong With African Americans