Individuals who were better dressed are perceived as more “white,” according to a study by Stanford researchers in collaboration with scientists at Tufts University and the University of California, Irvine.
The researchers asked participants to determine the race of individuals with different skin tones. The individuals depicted were dressed either in business attire or janitor attire. Researchers found that when race was more ambiguous, participants relied on the clothing of the individuals in the images. When the individuals depicted were dressed informally, participants were more likely to classify the individual as “black.”
“[The study shows] very simply, that race is about more than a person’s physical features,” said Stanford sociologist Aliya Saperstein in an interview with Stanford Knowledgebase, a sector of the Graduate School of Business’ news service. “If you can change how people perceive your race by changing your clothes (or by getting a promotion or demotion in your job), then race is not an “essence” that we hold in our bodies, it is a category we get assigned to socially through interactions with other people.”
— Ivy Nguyen