New Study Says White Liberals Dumb Themselves Down when they Speak to Black People

As reported by Wapo

You have recently joined a book club.

Before each meeting, one member of the literary collective sends an email to the club secretary offering a few thoughts on the assigned text. This month, it’s your turn to compose the brief review.

A new study suggests that the words you use may depend on whether the club secretary’s name is Emily (“a stereotypically White name,” as the study says) or Lakisha (“a stereotypically Black name”). If you’re a white liberal writing to Emily, you might use words like “melancholy” or “euphoric” to describe the mood of the book, whereas you might trade these terms out for the simpler “sad” or “happy” if you’re corresponding with Lakisha.

But if you’re a white conservative, your diction won’t depend on the presumed race of your interlocutor.

This racial and political disparity is among the discoveries made by a pair of social psychologists in a paper forthcoming in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Psychological Association. Cydney Dupree, an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Susan Fiske, a professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton, documented what they call a “competence downshift” exhibited by white liberals in interactions with racial minorities, and with black people in particular.

The findings, based on what the authors stress is “preliminary evidence,” raise difficult questions about aspirations for a so-called post-racial society. The results reveal how subtle forms of discrimination may coincide with progress toward equal treatment, or what the paper identifies as “a significant reduction in the expression of explicit prejudice and endorsement of negative stereotypes.”

The psychologists further discovered that white liberals rarely admit to the goal of appearing less competent, a fact that highlights the role of implicit bias and “the covert nature of the competence downshift strategy.”

“White liberals may unwittingly draw on negative stereotypes, dumbing themselves down in a likely well-meaning, ‘folksy,’ but ultimately patronizing, attempt to connect with the outgroup,” argues the paper, titled “Self-Presentation in Interracial Settings: The Competence Downshift by White Liberals.”

The findings could provide a new arrow in the quiver of those who decry identity politics practiced by liberals, and yet the paper hardly applauds conservatives for their approach, reasoning that they are simply “less motivated to affiliate with racial minorities.” In other words, the paper states, white conservatives “would not bother.”

“It’s somewhat counterintuitive,” said Dupree, who is the lead author and whose research was supported by the National Science Foundation as well as by Princeton’s Joint Degree Program in Social Policy. “The idea that people who are most well intentioned toward racial minorities, the people actually showing up and wanting to forge these connections, they’re the ones who seem to be drawing on stereotypes to do so.”

You can read more here.