Lay theories about white racists: What constitutes racism (and what doesn't)

  • Sommers S
  • Norton M
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Psychological theories of racial bias assume a pervasive motivation to avoid appearing racist, yet researchers know little regarding laypeople’s theories about what constitutes racism. By investigating lay theories of White racism across both college and community samples, we seek to develop a more complete understanding of the nature of race-related norms, motivations, and processes of social perception in the contemporary United States. Factor analyses in Studies 1 and 1a indicated three factors underlying the traits laypeople associate with White racism: evaluative, psychological, and demographic. Studies 2 and 2a revealed a three-factor solution for behaviors associated with White racism: discomfort/unfamiliarity, overt racism, and denial of problem. For both traits and behaviors, lay theories varied by participants’ race and their race-related attitudes and motivations. Specifically, support emerged for the prediction that lay theories of racism reflect a desire to distance the self from any aspect of the category ‘racist’.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Distancing
  • Intergroup relations
  • Lay theories
  • Modern racism
  • Racial attitudes
  • Social perception
  • Stereotyping

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  • Samuel R. Sommers

  • Michael I. Norton

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