We Perceive Black Men As Bigger And Stronger Than White Men
If we showed you photos of white and black men and asked you to rate how strong they appeared to be, you might reasonably ask if we were working on another porno, despite the entire industry taking out a restraining order against us last time. But when a qualified researcher asks that question, it's suddenly a harrowing insight into the power that stereotypes have over our subconscious reasoning. It's not fair.
950 American participants were shown photos of men who, unbeknownst to them, were of equal height and weight. They were then asked to estimate the height, weight, and strength of the men, and the black men were consistently judged to be larger and stronger. And the darker their skin was, the greater the assumption that they could overpower and bench-press the wimpy white men who were actually essentially identical to them.
The study's participants also believed that the black men in the photos were, in a hypothetical unarmed confrontation, more able to cause harm, and thus that police would be more justified in using force to stop them. Before you fire up your Outrage Machine, the point of this study was not to say "Everyone is secretly racist!" but rather "Everyone is, from birth, bombarded with countless stereotypes reinforced through subtle messaging that prompt us to make weird and unfortunate snap judgement calls." The study's black participants also judged black men to be stronger, although they did not agree that the men were potentially more dangerous. Go ahead and take a wild guess as to why.
Wilson, Et.Al./Journal of Personality and Social PsychologyWhite participants also rated white subjects as more dangerous, because apparently being European makes you jumpy AF.
Imagining a violent situation is not the same as facing one, and no single study can be used to make sweeping conclusions about society. But these findings align with other biases facing black Americans, like research showing that the age of black boys tends to be overestimated compared to their white peers (a 12-year-old white child caught shoplifting might be viewed as a kid making a mistake, while a 12-year-old black kid is basically a teenage "thug" who needs the book thrown at him).
That's all a bit depressing, but remember that the point of studying these biases is to help identify and address them. Other research suggests that with sufficient training, police officers can learn to tune out racial bias when making quick high-pressure decisions about the use of force.
We Misread People's Facial Expressions Based On Stereotypes
We also tend to view black faces as angry, even when their facial expression implies nothing more than "Waiting for the bus, and maybe thinking about video games or whatever." In this study, participants were shown photos of men and women of various races displaying a variety of emotions, and were asked to make split-second decisions as to what those emotions were. Two clear biases emerged: Black men were perceived as angry even when they weren't, and women of all races were perceived as happy even when they weren't. Please at least pretend to act surprised.
Again, these are subconscious decisions made by people who are generally not overtly racist or sexist. If they had a minute to think about the scenario, they would realize that the black man they were looking at is only tired or bored, or that one woman isn't as cheerful and open to a conversation with a total stranger as they thought. But we often don't take a minute to think things through, as evidenced by, well, the screaming morass that is modern society.