Conventional wisdom says the U.S. is pushing forward in a post-racial society, blind to skin color. The research of Jennifer Eberhardt, a recipient in the new round of MacArthur “genius grants,” has proved otherwise, says the San Jose Mercury News. She has found that skin color prejudices the perceptions of jurors, police officers and even the ordinary student who volunteers in research at Stanford University. Black people, especially those with very dark skin and kinky hair, are more likely to be linked to crime, handed stiffer punishments or even sentenced to death than lighter-appearing individuals, she says.
Eberhardt, a social psychologist, is among two dozen scientists, scholars, artists and civic-minded people to reap the $625,000 windfall announced yesterday. “We want to use the work to help people understand how race can influence us in lots of different ways, often in ways beyond our control and beyond our awareness,” said Eberhardt, 49. She acknowledges that facts, not social psychology, are needed to explain exactly what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Trayvon Martin in Florida, two black men killed under widely questioned circumstances. “But research is relevant to who is seen as a threat, under what conditions and why,” she said. “Black men are associated with danger, threat, aggression and crime, all of those things. It may have played a role in those situations.”