Study Proves White People Terrified of Black People—Again

From the world of discomfiting news comes a new study showing that black males are consistently overestimated in strength and build, and—even more worrisome—that they are viewed as more capable of causing harm.

Published by the American Psychological Association, and based on the results culled from 950 online participants, the study found that both black and white people overestimated the physicality of black males when compared to white males of the same size. But it also found that only whites would be more likely to label them as more “dangerous” and to believe that authorities are more justified in using force to subdue them. (Additionally disturbing, this CNN writer must assume that all CNN readers are white, since she wrote that “we” find black males scarier.)

“Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police,” says John Paul Wilson, PhD, of Montclair State University, a lead author of the study. “And often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot.”

It’s definitely not the first time researchers have proven the power of internal racial bias. Scientific findings have been around for decades, but first really captured public attention in 1998 with the release of the Implicit Association Test, which opened so many people’s eyes to their own internal racial biases. (Go ahead, try it on yourself.)

Obama’s Justice Department mandated implicit bias training for prosecutors and agents, and many police forces across the country have done the same—including Los Angeles and Chicago, which doesn’t say much for the efficacy of Chicago’s program.

Unsurprisingly, our current vice president, Mike Pence, is not a fan of pointing out implicit racial bias, as he made clear during the debates. Based on his statement—“Enough of this seeking every opportunity to demean law enforcement broadly by making the accusation of implicit bias every time tragedy occurs”—he failed to grasp the point, which is not to demean officers (or anyone else) but to teach people to overcome the internal bias that lurks in all of us.

Nor is the study necessarily an indictment of white people wholesale, as one black writer at The Atlantic found when he took the test and scored a biased result himself. He relates it to a dominant white culture imposing its views onto black people, who then internalize it. He retakes the test multiple times training himself to avoid the implicit reactions.

Ultimately what studies like this one show is just how far we have to go before we can overcome the racial bias that has become a part of our society.

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