National Institute on Aging

Black or African American? Labels Can Impact People’s Perceptions of Ideology

A new study led by Erika V. Hall, an associate professor of organization and management at Emory University in Atlanta shows that White Americans associate the label “Blacks” with being targets of racial bias more than the label “African Americans.”

“Americans of African descent have long fought for equality. But White Americans often misunderstand or misrepresent their advocacy,” said Dr. Hall. “We show the use of the Black versus African American label may fundamentally alter White Americans’ perceptions of their intentions.”

“Specifically, because the Black label became prominent amidst the Black Power Movement in the 1960s and the African American label gained popularity amidst the late civil rights movement in the 1980s, people and organizations that use each term are perceived to embody the ideologies of those movements,” explains c0-author Sarah S. M. Townsend, an associate professor of management and organization at the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California.

The findings have implications for outcomes as varied as image search results, the tone of media coverage, and non-profit fundraising. In one particularly stark finding, White Americans wanting to eradicate racial injustice will donate more to nonprofit organizations describing themselves as Black compared to African American.

The full study, “What’s in a Name? The Hidden Historical Ideologies Embedded in the Black and African American Racial Labels,” was published in the journal Psychological Science. James T. Carter of Columbia Business School is also a co-author of the research. The study may be accessed here.


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