Protesters angry about the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of black teen Trayvon Martin march through the streets of downtown Los Angeles in July 2013.

White Americans apparently do not have a problem with the ethnic label of “African American,” but “black” is a different story, according to a report at Pacific Standard magazine.

Ethnic labels for people of color, such as “African American” and “black,” determine just how whites perceive them, according to a new study titled “A Rose by Any Other Name? The Consequences of Subtyping ‘African-Americans’ from ‘Blacks,’” released in the January 2015 issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.


According to findings by a research team led by Emory University’s Erika Hall, “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.”


The researchers reached their conclusion after conducting a series of experiments. The first involved 106 white Americans, who were given a list of 75 traits, including “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, the report says.

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


In the second experiment, about 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.

The participants decided that the black person’s income and education level were lower than that of the African American’s, the report notes, and were far more likely to think of African Americans as working in managerial positions.


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

The researchers argue that their findings highlight long-standing problems in the criminal-justice system for African Americans. “The choice of racial labels used in courtroom proceedings could affect how jurors interpret the facts of a case and make judicial decisions,” they write. “Black defendants may be more easily convicted in a court of law than African American defendants.”


Read more at Pacific Standard.

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