What are we to make of this, White Liberals Present Themselves as Less Competent in Interactions with African-Americans?

Here’s the crux of the article and the research:

The researchers 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.

I’m not quite sure how to put the findings presented in this article into context. There are so many possibilities on how to understand the implications.

Is this just good communication strategy? Any communications professional will tell you how important it is to understand the audience you are communicating with. Using heuristics is vital to our ability to function in everyday society. Sometimes those heuristics involve biases that can be interpreted as racist or misogynistic. For the white liberal people in this study, having little information about the recipient of their communications forced them to rely on an uncomfortable heuristic: black people are less competent. Based on their experience the white liberals delivered their message in the most effective way they knew how to their Black counterparts, they dumbed down the language. In this instance the white Conservatives did not dumb down their communication with their Black partner. Under this Communications Strategy context, that means white Conservatives are not as effective communicators or are not as interested in effectively communicating with their Black counterparts.

Is this a result of culture differences between White Liberals and White Conservatives? Conservatives tend to be more religious. Often, religiously oriented White Conservatives are Conservative or Evangelical Christians. There is a teaching in the Bible that may be a foundation of this empirical difference in communication with their Black counterpart:

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. – James 2:8-9, KJV

In this framework, the religiously-minded White Conservative is attempting to live by the commandment to “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Could the Christian ethic more common in White Conservatives than in White Liberals be an explanation for the manner in which these to groups speak to their Black counterparts?

It’s also possible that the White Liberal is performing a type of signalling to establish their position within their own cohort. When communicating with someone they consider a peer, the White Liberal may feel it necessary to establish their intellectual bona fides by upgrading the language they use when communicating to what they believe are other members of their White Liberal cohort. while the White Liberal has a different motivation. Alternatively, the White Conservative may be behaving similarly as a way of signalling dominance over their Black counterpart. In this context, the research may be merely showing the inherently tribal nature of our species.

So which theory could explain this difference? Good communication theory? Cultural differences between White Liberals and White Conservatives? A result of our Tribal Instincts?

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