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My college class asks what it means to be white in America — but interrogating that question as a black woman in the real world is much harder to do. Photo illustration by Najeebah Al-Ghadban. By Claudia Rankine. I n the early days of the run-up to the election, I was just beginning to prepare a class on whiteness to teach at Yale University, where I had been newly hired. Over the years, I had come to realize that I often did not share historical knowledge with the persons to whom I was speaking. Would my students understand the long history that informed a comment like one Trump made when he announced his presidential candidacy?
Edited by Jennifer A. Young Black men are stereotyped as threatening, which can have grave consequences for interactions with police. We show that these threat stereotypes are even greater for tall Black men, who face greater discrimination from police officers and elicit stronger judgments of threat. We challenge the assumption that height is intrinsically good for men.
White men may benefit from height, but Black men may not. More broadly, we demonstrate how demographic factors e. This difference in interpretation is a matter not of magnitude but of meaning: The same trait is positive for some groups of people but negative for others. Height seems beneficial for men in terms of salaries and success; however, past research on height examines only White men. For Black men, height may be more costly than beneficial, primarily aling threat rather than competence.
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Three studies reveal the downsides of height in Black men. Study 1 analyzes over 1 million New York Police Department stop-and-frisk encounters and finds that tall Black men are especially likely to receive unjustified attention from police.
Then, studies 2 and 3 experimentally demonstrate a causal link between perceptions of height and perceptions of threat for Black men, particularly for perceivers who endorse stereotypes that Black people are more threatening than White people. Together, these data reveal that height is sometimes a liability for Black men, particularly in contexts in which threat is salient. You are big and they will automatically see you as a threat. Charles Coleman, Jr. The idea that height has negative consequences contrasts with psychological research on height in men, which argues that taller is better.
Tall men also stand a greater chance of being hired 10making more money 1112gaining promotions 1314and winning leadership positions 7 However, this research almost exclusively explores perceptions of White men Table S1who are already positively stereotyped as competent and intelligent 16 On the other hand, Black men are negatively stereotyped; they are seen as hostile, aggressive, and threatening e.
For Black men, height may be more often interpreted as a of threat instead of competence. Thus, being tall may not be inherently good or bad for men. Instead, the accessibility of other traits, such as competence and threat, may influence how people interpret height. Considerable research demonstrates that Black men are specifically stereotyped as physically threatening and imposing 22 Black man and i mean needed, For this reason, height may impact judgments of threat more strongly for Black men than for White men.
In three studies, we test whether taller Black men are judged as more threatening than shorter Black men and than both taller and shorter White men. We first examined whether New York City police officers disproportionately stopped and frisked tall Black men from to study 1. We then investigated whether height increases threat judgments more for Black men than for White men by manipulating height both visually study 2 and descriptively study 3.
showed that cultural stereotypes of threat are increased by tallness more for Black targets than for White targets and, conversely, that cultural stereotypes of competence are increased by tallness more for White targets than for Black targets.
Full reporting for this pilot is provided in Pilot Study: Cultural Stereotypes About Height and Race ; a graph summarizing the is shown in Fig. Before analysis, we cleaned the dataset and made three restrictions. Recent work demonstrates that young Black men are perceived as taller and more threatening than young White men, controlling for actual height To for the alternate explanation that police officers simply perceived Black men as taller than White men 25we analyzed only cases in which suspects provided photographic identification, which almost always lists height alongside other information that cannot be guessed or estimated, such as date of birth thus making it highly probable that officers record the listed value for height, rather than estimating it These restrictions left us with 1, valid targets for analysis.
The stop-and-frisk dataset is large and includes numerous potential dependent variables. We recognize the potential issue of flexible analyses and partly address this issue by estimating standardized effect sizes for many variables, which allows comparison of the relative magnitude of effects especially given that the sample size is large enough to allow accurate estimation of effect size.
We ed for target weight and the interaction of height and weight to isolate height as a predictor Furthermore, to address an ecological explanation for race effects 28we nested our data within precinct to for variability in geographical factors such as crime rate and land valueincluded precinct-level felony rates from —and also included a variable in which officers report whether the stop was made in a high-crime area. Finally, because some research suggests that only young Black men are stereotyped as threatening 29we include age and the interaction between height and age in our model.
Under stop-and-frisk rules, police officers had the authority to stop anyone they deemed suspicious or threatening. If tall Black men seem especially threatening, then the ratio of Black to White stops i. These suggest that taller Black men face a greater risk of being stopped than shorter Black men.
At lb, police stopped 4. We also found effects for other variables in the model.
Unsurprisingly, areas with more crime, as reported by police and captured in precinct-level data, exhibit higher ratios of Black to White stops. The ratio of Black to White stops was also larger for younger men. See Table S2 for the full coefficients and a replication of with both photo and verbal IDs included. Study 1 demonstrates that tall Black men receive disproportionate attention from police officers. In the next two studies, we test whether these might be explained by an interaction between race and height, such that tallness primarily increases perceptions of threat for Black men and primarily increases perceptions of competence for White men.
We experimentally manipulated height and race to test whether they interact to influence judgments of threat and competence. To manipulate height, we took photographs of 16 young men—eight Black and eight White—from two perspectives: above the target and below the target.
These different perspectives naturalistically manipulated the experience of encountering someone who is tall or short. See Method for a more detailed description of the perspective manipulation. Participants rated 16 photographs for adjectives describing both threat and competence. We also tested the complementary hypothesis that stronger BaBT might make tall White men seem especially competent.
We also ly conducted another study with a nearly identical de; the of this study are detailed in Iteration of Study 2. To test whether those with higher BaBT would judge tall Black men as especially threatening, we fit a three-way multilevel model predicting threat with race, height, and BaBT.
No moderating effect of participant gender emerged Fig. Study 2 ratings of threat by race, height, and BaBT. Positive values indicate beliefs that Black people are more threatening than White people; negative values indicate beliefs that White people are more threatening than Black people.
These suggest that the predictive utility of BaBT is moderated by height for stereotype-relevant targets Black men but not for stereotype-irrelevant targets White men. Although BaBT captures the endorsement of stereotypes about threat and not competence, we nevertheless tested for a three-way interaction with competence ratings.
Participant gender did not moderate effects. This interaction is further broken down statistically Additional Analyses for Study 2 and graphically Fig. Height did not increase threat for White men, nor did it increase competence for Black men. However, our pilot study revealed main effects of height on stereotypes of both competence and threat. One possible explanation for this null finding is that, for judgments of tall White men, perceived competence suppressed gains in threat, and, for judgments of tall Black men, perceived threat suppressed gains in competence. Because we found ificant race by height interactions for both threat and competence at mean levels of BaBT, we were able to conduct Sobel mediations using the entire sample to test these hypotheses.
Study 2 experimentally demonstrates that height amplifies threat for Black men and competence for White men, particularly for perceivers who endorse beliefs that Black people are more threatening than White people.
Study 2 also found indirect negative effects of height on competence for Black men and threat for White men. Although the photographs from study 2 have naturalistic validity, they may also confound height with intimidation We address this concern by manipulating height with text vignettes e.
Participants rated 16 targets on the same threat and competence adjectives used in study 2. They then completed the BaBT scale. As in the experiment, we predicted that those higher in BaBT would make especially strong threat judgments for tall Black men and especially strong competence judgments for tall White men. We again fit a multilevel model predicting threat with race, height, and BaBT. Participant gender did not moderate effects Fig.
Study 3 ratings of threat by race, height, and BaBT. No moderating effect of participant gender emerged. See Additional Analyses for Study 3 for the breakdown of both the threat and competence interactions. Study 3 addressed stimuli concerns from study 2 and again demonstrated that, for those higher in BaBT, tall Black men seem especially threatening compared with short Black men and both short and tall White men. In three studies, we showed that taller is not always better; although tall White men may benefit from increased perceptions of competence, tall Black men are burdened with increased perceptions of threat.
We first revealed that NYPD police officers stopped tall Black men at a disproportionately high rate study 1. We then demonstrated that, for perceivers who endorse stereotypes that Black people are more threatening than White people, tall Black men seem especially threatening studies 2 and 3.
research has amply demonstrated that people may interpret traits and behaviors as positive or negative depending on the accessibility of other concepts.
Racial stereotypes alter the accessibility of traits during person perception, which influences how people interpret other traits—in this case, height. For people who already perceive Black men as threatening, height confers extra threat.
Our findings have important implications when considered alongside recent research demonstrating that young Black men are perceived as taller and more muscular than young White men of equivalent size, which causes them to also seem more threatening to non-Black participants The present findings suggest that the negative consequences of these biased height perceptions i. Height may also interact with more subtle cues of race, such as Afrocentric features 3233and the effect of height may be determined by contextual cues.
Once we controlled for perceived threat in study 2, taller Black men were actually perceived as more competent than shorter Black men. When competence is clearly more relevant than threat, Black men may also benefit from height.
Alternately, Black men may also benefit from height if they possess other traits that reduce threat, such as babyfacedness More broadly, these highlight the importance of intersections between social and physical traits. Just as social such as race, gender, age, and socioeconomic status intersect in important ways with each other 3536so too do they influence the impact of physical factors such as height 37weight 38babyfacedness 34and facial attractiveness