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Race, Racial Bias, and Prejudice

Public Perceptions of Black Girls and Their Punitive Consequences 

Despite data on the disproportionate levels of punishment Black girls face, there is little political science research investigating the public attitudes that enables this treatment. In the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics, IPR social policy expert Sally Nuamah and social policy scholar and IPR associate Quinn Mulroy study how public perceptions of Black girls shape support for their punishment. In a March 2020 survey experiment, the researchers presented 1,466 adults with a scenario where a student violated the school’s dress code policy. Four names commonly described in research as stereotypical of  particular racial and gender groups—Keisha (Black girl), Emily (White girl) Jamal (Black boy), and Jake (White boy)—were randomly presented as the violator. The participants were asked a series of questions about their perception of the student. The researchers replicated the study in October 2020 with 2,266 adults. The first study’s findings show Emily and Keisha were perceived as older than the male students, but Keisha was viewed as significantly more dangerous and experienced with sex. The findings of the second study, conducted after the racial justice protests in 2020, show Keisha was perceived as older than the other students—a finding they define as indicative of their adultification—and Keisha and Jamal were both perceived as more dangerous. They also find that this adultification led to support for harsher punishments and punitive policies for Black girls across the two studies. This evidence demonstrates the link between negative stereotypes about Black girls’ maturity and support for harsher punishment in schools and beyond, highlighting the potential role of the American public in contributing to uneven punitive experiences.

Knowledge About People’s Interracial Friendships Influences How They Are Viewed 

People’s biases about other groups are shaped by their interactions with and by characteristics of those groups. In Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Kellogg social psychologist and IPR associate Ivuoma Onyeador and her colleagues conduct four studies to investigate how interracial friendships affect how an individual is viewed. The first two studies sought to determine whether perceptions of an individual’s race changed based on their assumed friendship circles. The approximately 180 participants, split between Black and White Americans, were shown two images at a time of either Black or White Americans’ faces with random noise added and were asked to select the image most likely to be a person with mostly Black, mostly White, or an equal number of Black and White friends. Those selections were then averaged to create a “mental representation” of Black and White people whose friendship network varied in its racial makeup. Participants perceived Black individuals with mostly Black friends to have darker skin than Black individuals with mostly White friends and perceived White individuals with more Black friends to have darker skin than White individuals with mostly White friends, which the researchers termed the racial assimilation effect. In the third study, 120 White participants rated how African or European individuals appeared, perceiving the images determined to have mostly Black friends as more African and those determined to have mostly White friends as more European. In the fourth, 102 participants, half Black and half White, rated how African and European the images looked, and how threatening, trustworthy, warm, competent, or lower class the individuals appeared. Study four found that in general, participants rated images of an individual generated by participants who believed the person had mostly Black friends more negatively than an individual with mixed or mostly White friends. The one exception was evaluations of White individuals with mostly White friends generated by Black participants. The research demonstrates that interracial friendships influence perceptions of race, group loyalty, and traits. Additionally, because Black and White participants positively viewed those whom they perceived to have other-race friends, the researchers suggest interracial friendships may influence perceptions of interracial solidarity.

The Role of Parents in Developing the Racial Identities of Multiracial Black Young Adults

Racial identity is a crucial part of identity development that is shaped by different environments, including the home. In Race and Social Problems, IPR graduate student Courtney Meiling Jones and IPR developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers explored the role parents play in Multiracial, Black young adults making meaning of their own racial identities. The researchers examined 11 semi-structured interviews of Multiracial Black college students about race, racial identity, and the Black Lives Matter movement taken from the “Beyond Black and White” study. The researchers used the m(ai)cro model to focus on the role of the macrosystem in human development, allowing them to analyze the ways in which societal structures of power cannot be separated from the micro-level racial identities and socialization experiences of Multiracial youth. Similarly, the researchers relied on Critical Multiracial Theory (MultiCrit) to assess the distinct ways that the structure of white supremacy influences multiraciality and how this influence forms the everyday experiences and individual assessment of Multiracial people. The researchers find college students spontaneously mentioned their parents in the interviews as a source of racial information or guidance, as a way to support their own racial identification, and to illustrate how their Multiracial identities created moments of connection and disconnection with parents and family members. The findings underscore that parents play a pivotal role in helping Multiracial youth navigate their identities into the young adult years. Moreover, the young adults show us how parents of Multiracial young people can best support their children’s racial development, including by being aware of how their own racial identities as parents may support or constrain how their children are able to identify in the American racial context. Future research should continue to explore the role of families in socializing their children—especially Multiracial youth.

Studying Racial/ Ethnic Identity Among White Youth

White youth, like all youth in the United States, grow up in a system of racial inequity, yet little research exists about how they make sense of their racial identity. IPR developmental psychologist Onnie Rogers and Ursula Moffitt of Wheaton College Massachusetts offer insights on framing and conducting research on how White youth understand their own racial identity in the Journal of Research on Adolescence. The researchers discuss the history of research on racial and ethnic identity development and argue that it is necessary to use different measures to understand racial identity development among White youth versus Black or Latinx youth. Helms’ White Racial Identity Development (WRID) model, or a two-phase model that examines internalization and challenges to the racist status quo, offers one framework for a contextualized study of White identity. The researchers used this model in previous research and suggest that children are aware of race at a young age, but their ability to make sense of race and racism can change with experiential knowledge and greater cognitive ability. Finally, the researchers urge scholars to use models designed to assess Whiteness in context, move beyond age-related changes to explain development, reflect on how their own identities shape their work, and apply an anti-racist lens when using terms and constructs when conducting research on racial identity among White youth.

Directions for Vaccinating Children Against Racism: Treating Racism as a Virus

During the COVID-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affected Black Americans, many around the United States watched the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, a racist experience that was not new for Black youth. In the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, pediatrician and IPR associate Nia Heard-Garris and her colleagues discuss how racism is a social virus analogous to infectious viruses such as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Structural racism is embedded within our societal structures and unfairly advantages certain racial or ethnic groups over others, and this is a common lived experience of racially minoritized groups in the U.S. The researchers note that viruses, which need a host to survive, impact more susceptible people, and in the same way, people who seek dominance and rely on patterned behaviors are likely to be “host” for racist behaviors. The authors argue that racism is comparable to an endemic virus that continues to circulate because it is woven into the fabric of American society, including the medical profession. Viruses can be pandemic or endemic, and the authors point out that racism is endemic in American society. Racism can spread through harmful practices, like when parents reinforce racial hierarchies or promote mistrust of racial groups. These harmful practices can negatively impact both the physical and mental health of children. The authors argue that parents should socialize their children about race in healthy ways to acknowledge racism within society and reduce the spread of prejudice. They also suggest mental health professionals receive training programs to combat racism, which can support the wellbeing of children and adolescents.

Researching the Psychology of Racial Bias Using a Bidirectional Approach

The field of psychology often focuses on the study of racial bias through the lens of the individual, yet this approach largely ignores systemic racism and the way bias is shaped by broader cultural systems. In Nature Reviews Psychology, IPR psychologist Sylvia Perry and her colleagues examine the bidirectional relationship between individual-level biases and systems and structures that create and reinforce racial inequality. The researchers examine five systemic factors that relate to the individual level: power and privilege disparities, cultural narratives and values, segregated communities, shared stereotypes, and nonverbal messages. For example, when it comes to systems around cultural narratives and values, American history is often taught through a White-affirming lens in schools, obscuring the relationship between contemporary systemic injustice and racial injustices of the past. This can shape individual attitudes about race and racism. Individual-level bias can also impact how history and culture are presented, based on how an educator selects and constructs narratives. This example highlights the way systemic and individual level biases influence and play into one another. The researchers propose several intervention recommendations to reduce racial bias, including for White parents to talk to their children about race and racism and better education about the history and systems that have led to current racial injustices and inequalities. Future psychology research should test interventions to reduce racial bias that targets both systems and individuals.

Building Support for Parent-Child Conversations About Race

Should White parents have conversations about race and racism with their children? Prior research suggests that with a lack of evidence supporting the value and impact of White parent-child conversations about race, it is safer to postpone these conversations since the effects are unknown. In Perspectives on Psychological Science, however, IPR psychologist Sylvia Perry and her colleagues argue that White parents can and should have these conversations with their children. The researchers review theoretical and empirical literature about the psychological effects of parents talking to children about topics such as race. They estimate that 30% of White parents are already attempting to introduce their children to the reality of racism in the United States. Support for race conversations in White families is further boosted by research showing parent-child conversations are beneficial for navigating tough emotions and a child’s sexual health. Additionally, the researchers find a lack of evidence suggesting that nonverbal behaviors, such as visible discomfort on part of the parents, will increase racial biases, as other researchers state. Although Perry and her co-authors understand that more empirical evidence to support their conclusion is needed, they call for White parents to act due to the urgency of the issue and the positive outcomes for children and society.

Racial Socialization Messages in White Parents’ Conversations About Current Events with Their Children

Given the rise of white nationalism since the 2016 presidential election, researchers have identified an urgent need to understand the conversations White families have—or do not have—about race and racism. In the Journal of Research on Adolescence, IPR psychologist Sylvia Perry and researchers from the University of Vermont examine how White parents communicate messages about race and racism to their teenage children when discussing current events involving racism. In the first study, conducted in September 2019, the researchers asked 123 White parents to answer questions about their attitudes toward and interactions with various social groups, and how they discuss social groups and current events involving police brutality and white supremacy with their child aged 14–17. In the second study, conducted in June 2020, the researchers asked 104 White parents of teenagers ages 14–17 if and how they discussed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmad Arbery, and other Black Americans killed by police with their child. The researchers find that the rates of discussions in 2020 (79–81%) were double those in 2019 (40–43%). Despite this finding, color-conscious messages, which show awareness of racism, were less common in 2020 than in 2019, and color-blind messages, which deny race and racism are real or important, were similarly prevalent across both groups. The evidence shows that while the higher rates of conversations in 2020 suggests progress toward racial justice, the content of the conversations suggest otherwise. The researchers write that the next step is to identify intervention points that will help redirect White parents toward more color-conscious conversations.