Apparently in the minds of white people the difference is enormous, according to a fascinating new study conducted by a research team at Emory University.
At a time when many people of African descent view the two descriptors to be interchangeable, researchers devised a series of experiments that enabled them to determine that white Americans have a profoundly more negative view of people of color when they are described as “Black” as opposed to when they are described as “African-American.”
The results have profound implications for the Black community, where there is still considerable internal debate about which term should be used to describe the group—with many people still of the mind that either one is fine. While many Black people may not care which term is viewed more positively by white people, the study results could prove helpful in understanding the peculiarities of white racism.
The results were revealed in the latest issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, where the research team led by Emory University’s Erika Hall argues that “the racial label ‘black’ evokes a mental representation of a person with lower socioeconomic status than the racial label ‘African-American.’”
“The content embedded in the black stereotype is generally more negative, and less warm and competent, than that in the African-American stereotype,” the researchers write. “These different associations carry consequences for how whites perceive Americans of African descent who are labeled with either term.”
The first experiment involved 106 white people who were given a list of 75 traits—words such as “aggressive”, “bold,” “athletic”—and were asked to choose the 10 they felt most accurately described people of different groups randomly assigned to them. In the end, just one-quarter of the evaluators selected the best traits for “blacks,” while the rest assigned the best traits to African-Americans, whites and Caucasians—with very little difference.
“The stereotype content for blacks was significantly more negative than for African-Americans,” the researchers write. “In contrast, the stereotype content for African-Americans did not significantly differ in perceived negativity from that of whites.”
The second experiment asked white to complete a profile of a typical male Chicago resident described as either “black” or “African-American.” The respondents estimated the income and education level of the “black” person to be lower than that of the “African-American”—and significantly were far more likely to think of the African-American as being in a managerial position at his workplace.
Another experiment saw 90 white people express more negative emotions toward a 29-year-old crime suspect when he was identified as “black” rather than “African-American.”
“The choice of racial labels used in courtroom proceedings could affect how jurors interpret the facts of a case and make judicial decisions,” the authors write. “Black defendants may be more easily convicted in a court of law than African-American defendants.”