Posted on July 22, 2019

Biracial Americans Face Unique Stereotypes, According to a New Study

Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard, July 12, 2019

The growing number of biracial Americans could, in theory, lead to a less prejudiced society. But new research suggests that these Americans aren’t so much shattering stereotypes as finding themselves pigeonholed with new ones.

“A lot of stereotypes of black-white biracial people were completely different from the ones people have about white people and black people,” reports Northwestern University psychologist Sylvia Perry, who authored the study with fellow researchers Allison Skinner and Sarah Gaither.

“This suggests that people might actually think of biracial people as their own racial group, rather than just a combination of their parents’ racial groups.”

In the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers report that two stereotypes appear to be applied to all biracial groups. Whatever their particular ethnic mix, biracial Americans are perceived as unusually attractive people who struggle to fit in.

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Still, the stereotypes participants were most likely to offer for black/white biracial Americans were “not belonging” (35 percent), “broken home” (16 percent), and “ostracized” (16 percent). All three stereotypes imply concern for the person, as opposed to fear or loathing.

The researchers went into the study suspecting that black/white biracial Americans would be widely categorized as black. But the data showed that these biracial Americans “had an equivalent number of stereotypes in common with white individuals (ambitious, attractive, likable) as [with] black individuals (athletic, loud, criminal).”

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Overall, “our data suggests that there are universal stereotypes of biracial individuals—namely, that they are attractive, and struggle with belonging,” the researchers conclude. “However, we also found that the perceived social stereotypes about biracial groups vary greatly.”

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{snip} While the attractiveness of multiracial people “could be evidence of an evolved attraction to people with greater genetic diversity,” a conclusive answer is beyond the scope of this study.

But the results surely reflect white Americans’ instinctive—and obviously problematic—tendency to categorize people, as opposed to using our finite cognitive resources to judge them as individuals. If certain people don’t fit any pre-existing stereotypes, it appears we are happy to create new ones just for them.