Posted on September 28, 2011

Why Race Isn’t So Black and White: The Smarter You Dress, the ‘Whiter’ It Makes You Appear, According to New Study

Ted Thornhill, Daily Mail (London), September 27, 2011

Clothing, it seems, can make us colour blind, because whether we perceive someone as ‘white’ or ‘black’ depends not just on skin tone–but also how smartly they are dressed, according to researchers.

Volunteers in a U.S. study tended to label someone as white if they were dressed in a suit–even if the face had dark skin–and labelled someone black if they were dressed in working overalls.

The scientists revealed that perception of race is shaped by prejudices that we already hold–and that racism runs deeper than we think.

In the study, conducted by a team of researchers from Tufts University, Stanford University and the University of California, participants, of various races, were shown a series of computerised faces, with different skin colours and clothing.

This was recorded by a hand-tracking technique that followed the trajectory of the mouse.

The study revealed how racism can be subconscious, because it comes from preconceived ideas.

This was reinforced by the fact that the more racially ambiguous the face was, the more the volunteers relied on the clothing to reach an answer.

The study’s lead author, Jonathan B Freeman, from Tufts Graduate School of Arts and Sciences said: ‘The study shows how the perception of a face is always a compromise between the visual cues before our eyes and the baggage we bring to the table, like the stereotypes we hold.

‘Racial stereotypes are powerful enough to trickle down to affect even basic visual processing of other people, systematically skewing the way we view our social world.’