The stereotype of the “magical Negro” didn’t vanish with the Antebellum South. New research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science has found that whites continue to hold superstitious beliefs about black people.
A series of studies found that white people look upon blacks with a “superhumanization bias,” or the idea that black people have preternatural or otherwise uncommon abilities. This is may sound like good news, but it’s not. Those stereotypes are part of the way whites have historically justified the domination of black people.
The study: In one experiment, 30 white volunteers were taken to a private lab room and completed an implicit association test that attempted to determine which race they associated more with seven “superhuman words” (ghost, paranormal, spirit, wizard, supernatural, magic and mystical). Whites tended to associate black faces with the far-out word group, suggesting that “whites appear to superhumanize blacks implicitly.”
In another test, white Internet users were explicitly asked to match up either a white or black face to the following questions:
1) Which person “is more likely to have superhuman skin that is thick enough that it can withstand the pain of burning hot coals?”
2) Which person “is more capable of using their supernatural powers to suppress hunger and thirst?”
3) Which person “is more capable of using supernatural powers to read a person’s mind by touching the person’s head?”
4) Which person “is more capable of surviving a fall from an airplane without breaking a bone through the use of supernatural powers?”
5) Which person “has supernatural quickness that makes them capable of running faster than a fighter jet?”
6) Which person “has supernatural strength that makes them capable of lifting up a tank?”
The white respondents associated black people with the superhuman abilities about 63.5% of the time, with whites coming close only in the mind-reading category (52% black) and falling from a plane (54% black). “In all six cases, a majority of participants assigned superhumanness to the Black target rather than the White target,” the study’s authors explain. “Overall, this study’s findings suggest that broadly superhumanization of Blacks versus Whites emerges at an explicit level.”