Whites more often attribute negative stereotypes to the label “Black” than they do to the label “African American,” according to a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Whites also associate less warmth, and lower socioeconomic status with the label “Black” than with “African American.”
The study, conducted by Erika Hall, Katherine Phillips, and Sarah Townsend, asked 106 White participants to assign each of 75 attributes to the labels “Black,” “African American,” “White,” and “Caucasian” in order to determine their stereotype content—that is, what traits participants stereotypically associated with each label.
According to the study, “participants perceived the racial label Black more negatively than the racial label African-American.” The study also found that Whites attribute less warmth to the label “Black,” but that they attribute similar levels of warmness to the labels “White” and “African-American.”
The researchers also tested the stereotype content of the label “Caucasian” to attempt to determine whether the difference in how Whites perceive the various labels was a function of a preference for non-color based labels. The participants generally attributed similar traits to the labels “White” and “Caucasian,” however, indicating that any negativity associated with the label “Black” was not driven by a more general distaste for color based labels versus non-color based labels.
“The choice of commonplace racial labels can have profound effects on the expression of prejudice in the United States,” the study’s authors wrote. “Although the terms African-American and Black are used synonymously, our work indicates that the label used to identify an can have material consequences for that person.”
“The same individual is perceived differently if he is labeled African-American instead of Black, and this may lead to bias in criminal, educational, and employment spheres,” they continued. “Thus, counter to Shakespeare’s statement, a rose, by any other name, does not smell as sweet.”