An associate psychology professor at Stanford University is among 21 winners of this year’s prestigious MacArthur Foundation “genius” grants for her work in the study of racial bias, including profiling by police.
According to the McArthur Foundation website, Jennifer L. Eberhardt, 49, was awarded the $625,000 prize for her work “investigating the subtle, complex, largely unconscious yet deeply engrained ways that individuals racially code and categorize people, with a particular focus on associations between race and crime.”
“I’m honored and surprised and overwhelmed,” Eberhardt told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I really want to be able to improve police and community relations. That’s what I would love to do. It’s so important.”
Eberhardt joins 20 other honorees, including Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist and graphic memoirist, Mary L. Bonauto, a civil rights lawyer “breaking down legal barriers based on sexual orientation and and gender identity,” and University of Illinois professor Tami Bond, who was awarded for her work in “unraveling the global effects of black carbon emissions, or soot, on climate and human health.”
Eberhardt is reportedly the first person from the Bay Area to ever receive a MacArthur Foundation grant.
According to the Chronicle, Eberhardt works with law enforcement agencies in California to make sure they are not engaging in subtle racism by stopping some ethnic groups more than others.
In one of her experiments, Eberhardt used a computer screen to quickly flash images of both black and white faces to a group of people. The group was then asked to identify as soon as possible a series of blurred images of guns and knives that slowly came into focus on screen. Eberhardt said those who viewed the black faces were quicker to identify the images of guns and knives.
“Research is relevant to who is seen as a threat, under what conditions, and why,” Eberhardt told the Contra Costa Times. “Black men are associated with danger, threat, aggression, and crime, all of those things. It may have played a role in those situations,” she said, referring to the killings of unarmed black teenagers Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin.
Eberhardt is currently working with the Oakland Police Department, where she says her research could prove vital to maintaining a healthy relationship between law enforcement and community.
“What we find out can be used in training, to better understand how officers react,” Eberhardt told the Contra Costa Times. “We want to involve society with what we learn, and help them improve their relationships with the public.”
Photo: MacArthur Foundation