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Study details the power of negative racial stereotypes

Barack Obama's election as president may be seen as a harbinger of a colorblind society, but a new study suggests that derogatory racial stereotypes are so powerful that merely being unemployed makes people more likely to be viewed by others -- and even themselves -- as black.

In a long-term survey of 12,686 people, changes in social circumstances such as falling below the poverty line or being sent to jail made people more likely to be perceived by interviewers as black and less likely to be seen as white. Altogether, the perceived race of 20% of the people in the study changed at least once over a 19-year period, according to the study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
 
Penner and Aliya Saperstein, a sociologist at the University of Oregon, examined data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics' National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. Though the ongoing survey is primarily focused on the work history of Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s, participants have also provided interviewers with information on a variety of topics, including health, marital status, insurance coverage and race.

But Robert T. Carter, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia Teachers College in New York who studies race, culture and racial identity, said he wasn't convinced that stereotypes had the power to change the perception of race.

"It's not social status that shapes race, it's race that shapes social status," he said. "Stratification on the basis of racial group membership has been an integral part of our society since prior to the inception of the United States. It's been true for hundreds of years."

The article "Study details the power of negative racial stereotypes" was published on December 9th in the "Los Angeles Times" http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/asection/la-sci-race9-2008dec09,0,5929450.story


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