Anyone Can Be a White Supremacist. Just Ask Raven-Symoné

Compared to white people, research has long showed that black people earn less money, are less likely to be employed despite having the same qualifications and are more likely to be killed by police. And a new study, published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, shows that subjects, when exposed to “black-sounding” names, assumed that a person with that name would scare them because of “estimations of physical formidability” – that is, they assumed the person to be bigger than they are and scarier than they are, though black and white men do not differ in average height.


In other words, Americans assume that unseen black folks, based on their names, are superhuman in size and super-scary, and they try to pass off their own irrationality as “objectively reasonable” in their interactions with black people. As Colorlines noted, the lead researcher, Colin Holbrook of the UCLA Anthropology Department, said that he felt “disgusted by my own data”.

The View co-host Raven-Symoné has a plan to fix all of that: black people simply need to give their children names that sound white. The actor-turned-talk-show-host took a lot of heat on the internet last week for saying that she wouldn’t hire a person with a black-sounding name such as “Watermelondrea,” prompting hilarious smackdowns about her hypocrisy and a video response from YouTube star Tré Melvin’s Watermelondrea character, which must be seen to be fully (and hysterically) appreciated.

The backlash was so harsh Symoné has backtracked, declaring that her comments were in “poor taste” and that she has “never discriminated against a name ... even though I said I would.”

Symoné, once again, has popped up as a kind of black Ann Coulter, a bogeywoman who periodically makes all of us colored folk cringe with her troll baiting – racist and shameless bigotry designed just to get people to talk about her. And now she has exposed how assumptions about black names and black menace are not limited to white people.

Her reaction demonstrates that the prejudice against black names may help explain why the black unemployment rate is consistently twice as high as the white one, why even black college graduates are twice as likely to be unemployed as whites and why a black college student is only as likely to be employed as a white high school dropout.

But beyond matters of economics and employment, there is something more existential revealed by the research into reactions to black-sounding names: when people assume black people to be bigger than they actually are, it creates a justification that they are a threat. If this is our collective delusion, it is “reasonable” that young black men are 21 times more likely to be killed than their peers by police.

That justification is part of how two different independent investigations have deemed that the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice was “objectively reasonable”. If the population assumes that Darnell or Tyrone are bigger than they are just from their black names, than it stands to reason it can deny that black boys are ever children, but are threatening menaces who must be gunned down in self defense – even if they are just children walking through a Florida suburb or pre-teens playing in a park.

This all echoes what bell hooks said in her final public lecture of her three-year residency at the New School last weekend: as she talked about how “patriarchy has no gender”, Symoné’ shows that white supremacy has no race. Similarly, Ben Carson has made inroads with Republican voters by deploying a nativistanti-immigrantanti-Islamicpro-violence, white supremacist narrative the right is so hungry for they will gobble up that steaming garbage even from a black man.

It’s easy and appealing to discount celebrities who are paid to spout commentary as ridiculous. But as the research made famous by Symoné’s comments makes clear, there’s nothing funny about any of this. Her comments reveal the subconscious thinking of most Americans, which drives a prejudice against black people having equal access to employment, education and life itself – a prejudice internalized even among Americans who live in black skin.

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