Hall: Descriptive race titles play role in perceptions

Researcher Erika Hall applied some of her personal experiences in deciding on her most recent stream of work.

An African-American, she says “socially awkward cocktail party conversations become even more awkward when a white attendee begins to refer to people of my racial background.”

That led to recent work upcoming in the [highlight]Journal of Experimental Social Psychology[/highlight] and featured in the Washington Post:

In one study, we randomly assigned white participants to associate words with either blacks or African-Americans. Specifically, they selected 10 terms out of a list of 75 (e.g. aggressive, ambitious) that they felt best described each group. The participants that evaluated blacks chose significantly more negative words than those who evaluated African-Americans. Notably, whites did not associate more negative words with “Whites” than with “Caucasians.”

The entire paper can be viewed here. Or, read more of Hall’s remarks in the Washington Post.

About Erika Hall 

Erika V. Hall joined the Goizueta faculty in 2014. Hall earned a PhD in Management & Organizations from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Her research focuses on implicit perceptions of femininity and masculinity in the workplace. Further, Professor Hall looks at how leaders with multiple minority identities are perceived in teams and organizations. Professor Hall’s work has appeared in academic journals such as Psychological Science and Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and media outlets such as The New York Times. Prior to graduate school, Hall was a Research Associate at Harvard Business School.

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2 comments on “Hall: Descriptive race titles play role in perceptions

  1. Michael B. Bakeley

    Dr. Hall, with all due respect, you can not possibly consider your disjointed and borderline recapitulation type study as pure scholarship and research. This study has numerous flaws because you failed incorporate the role that individual, institutional and systemic White racism plays in this fiscal conundrum. I disagree with your basic premise because I know lots of degree holding Blacks(Ph.D., MD, JD, MBA, etc.) who proudly identify themselves as ‘Black” due to the level of “Black consciousness”. Further, for those who self-identify as ‘African-American”, maybe more palatable to their White, Latino, and Asian peers, until a particular issue occurs at the workplace or school. Then, such persons as immediately disparately treated as if they identified themselves as “Black”.

    If you really wanted to examine an issue within higher education, I would suggest that you conduct a comparative analysis study amongst Black men/women and the type of position they compared to: 1) Political affiliation, 2) Group affiliation(so-called Black fraternity, sorority, boule, PHFAM, etc.), 3) Visually detected melanin composition, 4) Their ideological framework (Black centered, apolitical/ahistorical, or ‘post-racial’), and 5) If they conduct themselves in a manner that outside of the scope of their specific gender(i.e., Black men acting effeminate or Black women acting masculine).

    Your study does not pass the intellectual “smell test” because it places the onus on the victim(native born Blacks) and not the criminal (the White established order). Yes, it will definitely placate to your White colleagues because it still allow them an exit without any sort of ownership of their behavior(racial micro-aggressions, or unconscious bias). In fact, your study is akin to White undergraduate admissions officers who claim they “can’t find any qualified African-American” for our incoming class. Yet, they somehow manage to venture out on athletic data-mining drill to locate “African-American” football and basketball players.

    In close, I would be interested in know how many highly educated native born Black men do you personally know who self-identify as “Black” with earnings above the six-digit mark.

    Reply
  2. Erika Hall

    Thank you for the comments. I hope we can continue this conversation.

    I believe that in your first comment, you speak to the other factors that contribute to our economic situation. First, I want to acknowledge that I do experimental research, and although it has some benefits, it also has some drawbacks. The benefits are that by holding all other factors constant, you can isolate racism and see if it causally related to the outcome. For example, in my employment study, we randomly assigned White participants to view one of two job application forms. The application forms were unequivocally identical, except that in one, race was listed as Black, and in the other, race was listed as African-American. We found that White participants viewed the “Black” job candidate as lower in status and education than those that viewed the “African-American” candidate. Further, they believed the “Black” candidate had a lower salary and was less likely to be in a managerial position. So, we show that when you hold all else equal, these labels were consequential.

    The drawback is that in experimental scenarios you do not get the breadth of insights that other forms of research provide (e.g. interviews, employment data). Thus, as an experimentalist, I try not to speak beyond what I have shown in my particular study. Further, I encourage other researchers with other methods to attack the problems in different ways, so that we have a solid understanding of the problem from all angles.

    Based on your comment about degree holding Blacks, I am also slightly concerned that you misunderstood the results of the study. The study shows that White Americans view “Blacks” as lower socioeconomic status than “African-Americans,” but not that anyone who self-identifies as Black is objectively unsuccessful.

    I’m sorry that you feel that I am victimizing the minority, as I did not see it as such. I’ve tried to extrapolate from your comment, and I’m wondering if you feel that I am somehow advocating that a person must self-identify as “African-American”? I’ve tried to be consistent in my interviews to explain that Whites’ perceptions of the racial labels is only one factor that we should consider when we attempt to determine which label we should use to self-identify. For many people (including myself), self-identifying with the term Black evokes a great degree of pride. Thus, the pride that the label instills should be considered, and may even ultimately be more important than Whites’ perceptions of the terms.

    I hope this clarifies a few things, but I am open to corresponding with you if you would like me to clarify further.

    Reply

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