A new study confirms how much race still affects even those who undoubtedly do not view themselves as racist and are not viewed that way by others (which means most of us, of course). It was a rather clever study where they submitted the same writing sample to 60 partners in law firms, with half of them being told that the applicant was white and half that he was black. The predictable results:
In Written in Black and White, selected law firm partners were asked to evaluate a single research memo into which 22 different errors were deliberately inserted – 7 spelling/grammar errors, 6 substantive writing errors, 5 errors in fact, and 4 analytic errors. Half of the partner evaluators were told that the hypothetical associate author was African American and half were told that the author was Caucasian.
Sadly, you know what’s coming.
On a five point scale, reviews for the exact same memo averaged a 3.2 for the “African American” author and 4.1 for the “Caucasian” author. More surprising were the findings of “objective” criteria such as spelling. The partner evaluators found an average of 2.9 spelling and grammar errors for the “Caucasian” authors and 5.8 such errors for the “African American” authors. Overall the memo presumed to have been written by a “Caucasian” was “evaluated to be better in regards to the analysis of facts and had substantively fewer critical comments.”
The comments from the partners who thought the applicant was white talked about his “potential” and that he had “good analytical skills.” The black applicant was “average at best” and one partner “can’t believe he went to NYU.” There are a vast number of studies similar to this that show the same phenomenon, of course. And lest we think we are free from such subconscious biases, you can take some tests yourself on it.