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Black and White, or Shades of Gray? Racial Labeling of Barack Obama Predicts Implicit Race Perception


  • This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to Lori Wu Malahy and Mara Sedlins, and a National Science Foundation Small Grant for Exploratory Research # 0844674 to Yuichi Shoda and Jason Plaks. We thank Walter Mischel and the members of the Shoda Lab and the UW social-personality program for their feedback on this manuscript and project. We also thank Greg Reaume and Mavi Lawson for allowing us to use their photos for publication.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Lori Wu Malahy or Yuichi Shoda, Department of Psychology, University of Washington, Box 351525, Seattle, WA 98195-1525 [e-mail: or].


The present research capitalized on the prominence and multiracial heritage of U.S. 2008 presidential election candidate Barack Obama to examine whether individual differences in classifying him as Black or as multiracial corresponded to differences in implicit perception of race. This research used a newly developed task (Sedlins, Malahy, & Shoda, 2010) with digitally morphed mixed-race faces to assess implicit race perception. Participants completed this task four times before and one time after the election. We found that people who labeled Obama as Black implicitly perceived race as more categorical than those who labeled Obama as multiracial. This finding adds to the growing literature on multiracial perception by demonstrating a relationship between the explicit use of multiracial and monoracial race classification and implicit race perception. The results suggest potential implications for governmental, educational, and judiciary usage of racial categories.