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Yale: White Liberals Present Themselves as Less Competent

Dec 1, 2018 by

A new study published by Yale School of Management suggests white liberals try to make inroads with minorities by acting less competent.

AP Photo

AP Photo/Max Becherer

The study starts off by implying that liberals are less biased to begin with, saying “new research suggests that bias may also shape daily interactions between racial minorities and white people, even those whites who tend to be less biased,” but develops from there.

Yale SOM assistant professor of organizational behavior Cydney Dupree found that “white liberals tend to downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities, compared to how other white Americans act in such exchanges.”

“There’s less work that explores how well-intentioned whites try to get along with racial minorities,” Dupree said. “We wanted to know their strategies for increasing connections between members of different social groups—and how effective these strategies are.”

Dupree and co-author Susan Fiske of Princeton University analyzed campaign speeches by both Democrat and Republican Presidential candidates. In total, 74 speeches were examined, about half of which were delivered to predominantly minority audiences. They were looking for words that expressed competence, but also those that showed “warmth.”

Yale describes the two metrics thusly: “Warmth, related to intentions towards others, and competence, related to the ability to carry out those intentions, are two fundamental dimensions of how we see others and portray ourselves in social interactions.”

While both parties expressed the same level of warmth, Democrat candidates used less words expressing their competence to put their views into action when speaking to minority audiences. Further study “found that liberal individuals were less likely to use words that would make them appear highly competent when the person they were addressing was presumed to be black rather than white.”

However, the study found “no significant differences … in the word selection of conservatives based on the presumed race of their partner.” Dupress said “It was kind of an unpleasant surprise to see this subtle but persistent effect,” because “even if it’s ultimately well-intentioned, it could be seen as patronizing.”

Source: Yale: White Liberals Present Themselves as Less Competent

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2 Comments

  1. Henry

    This is an interesting but subjective statement: downplay their own verbal competence in exchanges with racial minorities.

    Campaign speeches are not my area, so I’ll lay off that, but I’m personally a chameleon. I can change my vernacular to match the person I’m speaking to, domestically or abroad. I used to read about the study of handwriting where it was said that the more intelligent people break the rules of handwriting because to do it as taught in school is actually slower and less efficient. I think that’s how I treat language. I’ll break the rules if it feels efficient to do so. I don’t think it’s ‘downplaying’ my ‘competence’. A good example is where English is a second language, I adapt by using clear anunciation and quite often a more rudimentary vocabulary. Sometimes if the goal of the conversation is not to teach English, which it usually isn’t, I might even stick exclusively to present-verbs as the various tenses may be unrecognisable to a beginner. I’ve received so many compliments for this from non-native speakers who expressed relief at how easy it was to understand me in comparison to other Americans. I’m inclined to believe that the real competancy lies in the ability to make ideas understood by the target audience rather than the use of a static parlance. When I speak to others, I try not to make it all about me. I’m not showing off my vocabulary 24/7.

  2. Sadly, the soft bigotry of low expectations is alive and well….

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