An old adage says that when America catches a cold, black America catches the flu. A recent study has found that there may actually be a reason for how poorly blacks fair during tough economic times. It seems that blacks are perceived as “blacker” to whites during economic downturns and whites tend to become much more exclusionary.
A study from New York University found that whites become more prejudiced when times are hard and are less likely to prefer someone outside of their own group. Researchers Amy R. Krosch and David M. Amodio determined that the economic environment alters the perception of race.
“Although prior explanations for this phenomenon have focused on institutional causes, our research reveals that perceived scarcity influences people’s visual representations of race in a way that may promote discrimination,” wrote the researchers, according to CBS DC. “Across four studies, scarce conditions led perceivers to view Black people as ‘darker’ and ‘more stereotypically Black’ in appearance, relative to control conditions, and this shift in perception under scarcity was sufficient to elicit reduced resource allocations to African-American recipients.”
The worst the economic conditions become, the “blacker” African-Americans are perceived, which could explain elevated levels of racism and nativism during tough economic times.
CBS DC explains how the experiment was administered:
The “non-black ethnic or racial group” participants in the study were first given questionnaires containing varying levels of “competition between races.” Participants were then shown 110 computer images of faces ranging from predominately white to predominately black, and were asked to label them “black” or “white.”
Participants were also asked to express agreement or disagreement with “zero-sum beliefs” such as, “When blacks make economic gains, whites lose out economically.” The participants who concurred with these “zero-sum” statements promoting racial disparity were more likely to consider mixed-face subjects as “blacker.”
The people who filled out the more racially competitive questionnaires were more likely to identify even the lighter faces as darker or more “stereotypically black,” in comparison to those given the control condition questionnaires that didn’t promote economic competition.
The test was not reversed to determine whether blacks viewed whites as whiter during tough economic times.
“People typically assume that what they see is an accurate representation of the world, so if their initial perceptions of race are actually distorted by economic factors, people may not even realize the potential for bias,” wrote co-author Amy Krosch.