Endemic racism: UCLA study finds ‘black’ names closely linked to large size, low status & aggression

© Lucas Jackson
A new UCLA study found that names normally associated with black people conjure up images of large, dangerous and low-status persons. It also demonstrated that unknown black males were perceived in the same way as unknown white males convicted of assault.

Some 1,500 Americans of mostly white origin, aged between 18 and their mid-70s and leaning more toward the left, were used for the series of studies.

The exercises the respondents had to complete revolved around reading several vignettes that describe a social situation. The participants would first read one of two nearly identical stories involving an altercation at a bar. The main character, after having his day described plainly, would end up at a bar, where he would accidentally bump into another person. The person would say, “Watch where you’re going, a-hole!”

In one version of the card the participants read, the main character was given a stereotypically white name – Connor, Wyatt or Garett. The other version would have Jamal, DeShawn or Darnell – all names commonly associated with African-Americans, according to prior research.

The second part of the experiment introduced two other possible variables: the protagonist was either a successful college graduate and/or business owner, or someone who had been convicted of assault.

Different groups were asked to read different cards. The control group would read a “neutral” vignette. The other groups would each read one of two additional vignettes, featuring  either the “successful” protagonist, or the “threatening” one.

Each group, no matter the card, were asked for their impressions of the main character, which included height, build, social status and demeanor.

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After the features of success and criminality were crossed with the different names, it was found that the “black neutral” protagonist was perceived the same as the “white criminal.”

According to anthropologist and study author Collin Holbrook of UCLA, “people imagine the neutral black character as similar in size to the white criminal character, and we know that this shift in size is a proxy for how violent and aggressive they implicitly perceive the person to be. It’s quite disturbing.”

But an even further correlation surfaced: that size and status have a diametrically opposite relation to each other, depending on the race of the person. In whites, a larger size is perceived to mean more success and authority in life. In blacks, the larger size stands for a larger degree of aggression, lower social standing, lower financial success and lack of respect.

“In essence, the brain’s representational system has a toggle switch, such that size can be used to represent either threat or status,” co-author and anthropology professor Daniel Fessler said.

“However, apparently because stereotypes of black men as dangerous are deeply entrenched, it is very difficult for our participants to flip this switch when thinking about black men. For study participants evaluating black protagonists, dangerous equals big and big equals dangerous, period.”

The findings disappointed Holbrook, who said, “I’ve never been so disgusted by my own data.”

He explained: “The amount that our study participants assumed based only on a name was remarkable. A character with a black-sounding name was assumed to be physically larger, more prone to aggression, and lower in status than a character with a white-sounding name.”

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Authors say their interest in researching the brain’s connection of size and threat level to race was prompted by the wave of black killings at the hands of white cops, all mostly featuring unarmed black men. The scandalous events that gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement revealed a culture of rampant racism that is alive and well.

The authors, therefore, caution all self-identifying leftists who claim not to be racists “to acknowledge the possibility that they have not only prejudicial but really inaccurate stereotypes in their heads.”