feature: macarthur grant winner shows how racial stereotyping and skin color determines criminal sentences

January 6, 2015

Interviewed by The New York Times, Jennifer L. Eberhardt – MacArthur Grant Winner and associate professor of psychology at Stanford University – speaks in depth of the racial stereotyping and biases that dominate the criminal justice system. Check out the full article here; and read some excerpts, below.

By Alexander Aplerku, AFROPUNK Contributor

The funny thing is that today, one of the things I study is face recognition, and maybe because that’s a kind of a metaphor for race relations. Not being able to read another person’s face — it symbolizes a psychological distance that makes it difficult to understand the experiences of another group.

African-Americans have long been associated with the pejorative words “ape” and “gorilla.” So we have studies where we show clips of police officers using force on a suspect. In the clip, you can’t tell the race of the person being beaten. Then we expose the research subjects to words associated with apes and gorillas. If the suspect turns out to be black, the use of force is justified by our research subjects more often than if our subjects hadn’t been exposed to those words.

One thing I do is work with police departments. We do workshops where we present these studies and show what implicit bias is, and how it’s different from old-fashioned racism. I don’t think this alone can change behavior. But it can help people become aware of the unconscious ways race operates. If you combine that with other things, there is hope.