Although African-Americans as a group are economically disadvantaged compared to the white majority group, there are numerous salient counterexamples of black influence. How do media images of highly successful African-Americans affect Whites′ beliefs about the economic or political status of African-Americans as a whole? Three experiments are reported that begin to address this question by surreptitiously activating thoughts about specific exemplars of African-American success and observing the consequences for a measure of perceived discrimination against Blacks. Contrary to the Enlightened Racism perspective, which claims that images of affluent African-Americans are taken by white audiences as evidence of a lack of discriminatory barriers to black success, Experiment 1 revealed that prior activation of a successful, well-liked black exemplar resulted in increased perceptions of discrimination in contemporary society. Experiment 2 replicated this effect and showed further that it is limited to successful exemplars who are well liked; successful exemplars about whom subjects had more neutral attitudes did not produce any changes in perceptions of discrimination. Finally, Experiment 3 showed that the effect of successful, well-liked exemplars vanishes when people first think about the fact that the exemplars are atypical members of the group. These findings are discussed in terms of a generalized appraisal process in which momentarily salient outgroup exemplars influence intergroup attitudes, which in turn affect judgments and beliefs about the group via an attitude heuristic.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science