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Study: Blacks with white friends are 'less black'

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Vincent Gray,Washington,Race and Diversity

When Washington, D.C., councilman and former Mayor Marion Barry this week said that whites need to be “more open-minded” about African-American politicians, claiming “blacks are more open-minded than” whites, he was suggesting that whites can't do what blacks do -- embrace the other race.

But a new study of 212 black college students made available to Secrets found little open-mindedness: Blacks don't like it when other blacks associate with whites, to the point of refusing help to an African-American experiencing “a run of bad luck” -- just because they have white friends.

The study in the April edition of the authoritative journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found the so-called “black code” alive and kicking, prompting blacks far more than whites to frown on one of their own if they associate with the other race.

“Having cross-race friends made black [examples] seem ‘less black,’” wrote two psychology scholars in their study of students at an unnamed historically black college. “However, having cross-race friends did not necessarily make white [examples] seem ‘more black.’”

Authors Leslie Ashburn-Nardo of Indiana University-Purdue University Indiana and James D. Johnson of the University of the South Pacific said the findings could undermine efforts by blacks to push into the corporate world if they are concerned about how their African American friends perceive them. The reason: “Their success will inevitably involve close associations with whites.”

They wrote: “Blacks sometimes strategically imply that they have connections to whites in an effort to increase their probability of success in the corporate world. Doing so may be a means of distancing themselves from negative group stereotypes or perhaps a ‘disarming mechanism’ to enhance their acceptability in the eyes of white employers or colleagues. Regardless of motive, such strategic out-group alignment may put blacks at risk for identity denial from fellow in-group members.”

The study tested the “black code,” in which “relationships with whites must be kept at arm’s length maintaining a silent us against them mindset. Blacks who appear too friendly and comfortable around whites are viewed with suspicion; their blackness in question.”

It looked at how the 1,200 black college students perceived racial identity of blacks with white friends, and also their empathy for blacks facing hardship who have white friends.

The study found that the perceived racial identity of blacks with white friends dropped significantly. For whites with black friends, the differences were small.

Testing empathy, the study offered somebody facing a “run of bad luck.” It found that the black students had far less empathy for a black person with white friends than a black person person with only black friends. “Violating the ‘black code’ undermined the often-observed robust effect of shared group membership on empathy,” said the study.

The study is the first to spin off of others that have found that multi-racial people face discrimination from blacks for having white friends and associates.

“Having cross-race friends elicited identity denial,” they wrote. “Although previous research largely focused on identity denial for multiracial or multinational targets, this research suggests that it can occur more broadly among black Americans who are seen by in-group members to have aligned themselves too closely with the advantaged white out-group.”

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.