William Bennett, who is white, suggested that if Barack Obama could become president, so could any black man. Implicit in the argument was that systemic racial discrimination was no longer keeping black men and women from success.
Bennett is far from alone in arguing that a single black American’s success is proof that impenetrable racial barriers no longer exist. In fact, it’s a common view, according to a recent study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The study authors, Clayton R. Critcher, assistant professor at University of California Berkeley, and Jane L. Risen, associate professor at the University of Chicago, found that exposure to a single African-American in a high-performing position — any position outside stereotypical jobs in which blacks “traditionally” excel — is enough to make whites more likely to deny the existence of systemic racism.
“People shifted the blame from vestiges of racism in America to problems in black communities,” Critcher told The Huffington Post over the phone.
To test this finding, Critcher and Risen recruited several hundred college students and adults to participate in eight experiments. In each study, participants were asked to identify images of marginally famous individuals. In most cases, all participants were shown the same images, depicting moderately famous white men and women. However in certain cases, one group was presented with an image of a successful African-American, like Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, while others saw an image of a white person of equivalent success, like Lockheed Martin Executive Chairman Robert Stevens.
Read more from this study in The Huffington Post