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Assessing How Professional Attire Influences the Perception of Black Men as Threatening

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 April 2021

Malissa Alinor*
Department of Sociology, University of Georgia
Justine Tinkler
Department of Sociology, University of Georgia
Corresponding author: Malissa Alinor, Department of Sociology, University of Georgia, 420 Baldwin Hall, Athens, GA30602. E-mail:


Previous research has demonstrated that Black men are perceived to be more threatening than White men. Relatedly, public discourse suggests that respectable dress may reduce this perception. In this paper, we test whether professional attire reduces associations of threat with Black men. In three separate studies, participants completed a modified version of the Weapons Implicit Association Test (IAT). In Study 1, we tested whether Black men are associated with threat more than White men dressed in similar attire. In Study 2, we sought to test whether professional dress lessens the association between race and threat through intra-race comparisons. In Study 3, we assessed the perception of threat of Black men compared to White men when dressed in differing attire. Overall, findings indicate that participants associate Black men with threat more than White men, regardless of attire. Moreover, contrary to expectations, participants more strongly associate professional than casual dress with threat. The results have implications for public and scientific discourse regarding how contextual cues affect perceptions of Black men as threatening.

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© The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Hutchins Center for African and African American Research

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