2017 Urban Research Awards: Dehumanization in the City

Dehumanization in the City: How Urban Ghetto Black Male Imagery Activates Dehumanizing Attitudes toward Black People

Assistant Professor Spencer Piston
Assistant Professor Spencer Piston

Through his research, Political Science Assistant Professor Spencer Piston seeks to address the problem of urban police violence against black people by focusing on their dehumanization. Specifically, he will identify conditions under which this form of prejudice shapes public attitudes and, in doing so, develop methods to combat dehumanization. For example, a common externality of dehumanization of black people is increased public support for police in their actions against the black community in the United States.

Professor Piston will conduct a survey of 10,000 white Americans to assess whether depictions of black men as “urban,” “ghetto”, etc. activate these dehumanizing attitudes toward black people. He also aims to assess the effectiveness of rehumanization efforts, specifically those intended to increase empathy for black lives. He will utilize various approaches on his subjects-including individualization and counter stereotyping exercises—to test  whether blacks can be rehumanized in the minds of others who had dehumanizing views.