Negative stereotypes about Blacks in the U.S. have declined dramatically since the 1930s — practically no White person to will say that Blacks are lazy, or superstitious, or many other stereotypes, when these views were common 80 years ago.
Yet huge racial disparities still exist infant mortality, unemployment, and poverty are found more than twice as often among Blacks than Whites, and these numbers haven’t changed since the 1960s.
In John Dovidio’s talk, “Racism Among the Well-Intentioned, he argued that most Whites who say they’re not biased, believe they are not biased. Yet at the same time, they do develop negative feelings towards Blacks and other people of color.
Bias typically only occurs when racist actions are not obvious. So while White people won’t say or do things that can obviously be seen as prejudiced, they will make systematic negative judgments about Blacks.
In one study, Dovidio and colleagues presented White students with a hypothetical job applicant. The applicant had either excellent or average qualifications, and was shown in a photo to be white or black.
Race played no factor in hiring decisions when the applicants had excellent qualifications, but when applicants had only average qualifications, Whites were hired significantly more often than Blacks.
They ran this study in 1989 and again in 1999 with no change in results. Yet over same period, overt racism declined.
In another study, Dovidio had people converse about a non-race-related subject via closed-circuit TV. Some conversations were normal, but in other conversations, a TiVo-like device was used to delay the response of each conversant by 1 second. It was a small delay, but it did introduce a bit of awkwardness into the conversation.
Then each participant’s anxiety level was measured.
For White-White and Black-Black conversations, anxiety actually went down when the delay was introduced. But in mixed-race conversations, anxiety went up. Dovidio argues that on the surface, Whites and Blacks say they’re not racist, but when a very small wrench is thrown into the works, things break down quickly. Negative assumptions are made that aren’t made in a single-race conversation.
These small factors add up to significant real-world results, such as the problems with poverty and unequal educational opportunities for Blacks compared to Whites.
update: I’ve finally had a chance to look up the APA style for “Black” and “White” when referring to racial groups. The descriptive term should be capitalized in both cases, so I’ve corrected this post. I apologize for the error.