When people are led to believe that a black man is more educated, they remember him as being lighter skinned, according to a new study in the journal SAGE Open.
Researchers tested 160 students at San Francisco State University by priming them with either the word “ignorant” or “educated.” They were then shown the face of a black man.
Students consistently recalled the “educated” black faces as lighter than they actually were.
Researchers say it has everything to do with racial stereotypes shaping memory. The study suggests an educated black man defies social stereotypes and, in order to maintain consistency, the mind tricks a person into thinking they weren’t so black.
Researchers called this type of racism “skin tone memory bias.”
“Black individuals who defy social stereotypes might not challenge social norms sufficiently but rather may be remembered as lighter, perpetuating status quo beliefs,” the study said.
“Whereas encountering a Black individual after being primed with the word educated might pose a challenge to existing beliefs, encountering a Black individual after being primed with the word ignorant would likely not require resolution or a misremembering of skin tone to align with these beliefs,” it added.
“When a Black stereotypic expectancy is violated (herein, encountering an educated, black male), this culturally incompatible information is resolved by distorting this person’s skin tone to be lighter in memory and therefore to be perceived as ‘whiter,’” said the study’s main researcher Avi Ben-Zeev.