ABWW News: The Invisible Woman of Color

November 22, 2009
The Invisible Woman of Color
By Tom Jacobs

New research finds black women are more likely to go unnoticed and unappreciated than black men or whites of either gender. The study suggests that on an unconscious level, black women are treated as “interchangeable and indistinguishable” from one another. ( Editorial Note: So either black women are overly recognized as stereotypes or we invisible. Ain’t that about a B*tch!)

Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man is a classic novel about a black man who feels unseen by his white neighbors. But new research suggests the most invisible Americans of all may be African-American women.

A just-published study suggests black women experience “a qualitatively different form of racism” that contributes to them not being “recognized or correctly credited for their contributions.” On an unconscious level, African-American females are “treated as interchangeable and indistinguishable from one another,” according to University of Kansas psychologists Amanda Sesko and Monica Biernat.

In the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Sesko and Biernat describe two experiments — one testing facial recognition, another examining spoken statements. In the first, 131 white undergraduates looked at 32 headshots. After completing a short filler task, they were shown those same 32 photos along with 24 new head shots — six each of white men, white women, black men and black women. They were asked to indicate whether each photo was new, or a repeat from the first group.

The results: “White participants were least likely to correctly recognize black women in comparison to the other groups. They were relatively unable to distinguish a black woman they had seen before from a ‘new’ black woman.”

In the second study, participants listened to a recorded conversation among eight college students, and were shown photos of the discussion participants as they spoke. Afterwards, they were asked to match specific statements with photos of the people who spoke them.

“Black and white women were more likely to be confused with each other than black and white men,” the researchers report. “Participants were more likely to incorrectly attribute statements made by black women to other targets than they were to misattribute white women’s, black men’s or white men’s statements.”

“These effects cannot be attributed to particular features of the targets, as careful pre-testing was conducted to ensure equal age, attractiveness, facial expression and distinctiveness (among the head shots),” the researchers conclude. “Instead, these studies provide evidence of black women’s relative invisibility, at least among college-age white samples on a predominantly white campus.”

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7 responses to “ABWW News: The Invisible Woman of Color”

  1. Anonymous Black Woman says :


    Please read Allison Samuel’s Newsweek article at:



    Anonymous Black Woman

  2. makeitplainonline says :

    It is sad, but I don’t find it surprising. In slavery and post-slavery periods many African American women worked in the background, not in the forefront, at many businesses and in many households. Although they were essential to the running of many of these places I think they were considered to be interchangable, and unfortunately it became part of the collective unconscious of mainstream America.

    When I was working as a school psychologist, whenever I would be behind the reception desk for any reason, people would assume I was a receptionist. No disrespect to all the super hardworking receptionists out there, but the assumptions people make just inform us about their beliefs.

    I still get funny looks from people from all walks of life when I tell them I am a doctor.

  3. eshowoman says :

    I wrote a piece about John Mayer on my old blog and I think I will re-post it now after writing in this area for awhile. What gaulled me is that he said he could not sleep with a black woman, but then kept talking about his sexual fantasies about black female celebrities. He thinks about black women just like a member of the KKK.

  4. Melanie Robinson says :

    No surprise to me either, living in Britain – no1 really gives a crap about black women, the way we’re portrayed in the media, they have no interest in putting experienced black women in prominent positions on TV programmes. It’s the way of the entire world and very sad.

    • eshowoman says :

      Hi Melanie,
      I was born in England and still watch a lot of British TV. Beside a few shows like Desmond’s that were on back in the day. Any
      black man on TV has a black partner and the few black women on TV are way lighter than me. Pitiful.

  5. Bri says :

    So if a man is not attracted to a black woman, he must be fantasizing about black women on the “down low”? Exactly why people can’t take you seriously… *sigh*

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