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How Did #BlackLivesMatter Affect Racism?

The Black Lives Matter movement may have reduced racial bias against African Americans, according to a new study.

“The movement is having an effect on both explicit and implicit racial biases,” says The Graduate Center docotral candidate Jeremy Sawyer, co-first author of the study along with Anup Gampa of the University of Virginia. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter marches that swept the country beginning in 2013, Sawyer and his colleague wanted to see if the movement was changing racial attitudes.

The researchers turned to the Project Implicit website, which allows users to take tests that measure implicit biases to a number of groups. Implicit biases are thought to be unconscious but can lead to automatic reactions to people. Explicit biases are beliefs that we are fully aware of and even endorse publicly.

The researchers found that white testers showed an overall preference for whites over blacks, and that a pro-white bias had been on the rise during the first four years of the Obama presidency. But during the Black Lives Matter movement, these biases began to decline. The declines were seen among liberals and conservatives, but were three times greater among the liberals.

Traditionally, our society has tried to address systemic racism through individual trainings, such as the Starbucks day of bias training or police training. But there’s little evidence that these methods are effective. “Our study shows that there may be another way to challenge racism in this country,” says Sawyer. “It took a civil war to end slavery, a mass civil rights movement to end segregation. It will take another mass movement to challenge institutional racism,” he says.

Beyond SUM

Explore This Work
“Implicit and Explicit Racial Attitudes Changed During Black Lives Matter”
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 2018

Work By
Jeremy Sawyer (Ph.D. Candidate, Psychology)

Colleges & Schools
The Graduate Center

Bonus Content
Black Lives Matter Movement Moves Racism Needle (The Graduate Center)

Related Terms