We live in 2020, and yet, racial injustices and hostilities recently brought to the world’s attention indicate that societies endure and sustain racism even today. In a journal article titled ‘The Psychology of American Racism’ soon to be published in American Psychologist, authors Roberts and Rizzo reviewed a diverse body of relevant research across psychology, social sciences, and humanities in what is called a meta-analysis study – that is, a study that reviews a collection of other studies to look for bigger-picture trends. In their meta-analysis, Roberts and Rizzo identify common themes underlying and promoting racism in the U.S, and they proposed seven factors to classify the patterns they found: Categories, Factions, Segregation, Hierarchy, Power, Media, and Passivism.
The first factor, Categories, describes learned, social categories and labels that people believe to be the ‘essence’ of identity and which contribute to stereotyping. Believing socially-constructed categories to be ‘natural’ ultimately leads to a reduction in interracial contact, and influence policy-making that support the enhancement of boundaries, literal or figurative, between groups. For Factions, the article refers to the “Minimal Group Phenomenon”- a social psychology experiment in which people randomly assigned to a group intuitively develop feelings of responsibility and belonging towards the group, assuming that the group requires their cooperation and support. Systematic grouping in terms of racial categories shows similar results in real life. As groups develop, so does group-based competition and conflicts. Thus a group may feel threatened from another group and end up committing “outgroup hostility”.
To explain the factor of Segregation, the article refers to residential segregation supported by “racist federal, state and local policies.” The system of ‘redlining’ (one example of such policies where banks would not give out mortgages to those living in ‘high risk neighborhoods’ because the government would not insure those mortgages) discriminates against minorities and communities of color, demarcates racist boundaries in real estate, and contributes to the lack of interracial interaction. This further promotes a negative view of interracial relationships, among other impacts.
The factor of American Hierarchy notes that not only is the idea of being an “American” more readily associated with white Americans, but also the depiction of God and Jesus as white enhances the perception of the group’s members as better leaders. Power, as a factor contributing to racism, highlights the disproportionately higher social status and influence of white Americans. Parents’ behaviors also determine the child’s perception of other communities, as research indicates that authoritative white parents as well as white parents who prefer all-white social environments are more likely to raise children with racist attitudes. Furthermore, Media also likely contributes to viewer’s racist perceptions through stereotypical portrayal, marginalization of people of color, and validation of idealized depictions of white Americans.
Roberts and Rizzo call Passivism “the most insidious component of American racism.” The body of research they reviewed indicates that the disproportionate socioeconomic power of white Americans is already so great that it can be maintained by simply staying passive. Ignorance of existing inequalities and denial of historical racism are identified by the authors as the key tools of Passivism through which American racism prevails.
Roberts and Rizzo’s meta-analysis study meticulously identifies specific categories that fuel systemic racism, so that future interventions can address these problem areas with tailored solutions. It is worth noting, however, that the results of the meta-analyses are highly dependent on any biases the main authors bring with them to the table, and it will be interesting to compare this summary with others that will surely come in the near future.
Steven Roberts is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Michael Rizzo is a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at New York University.
Managing Correspondent: Rhea Grover
Original Press Article: Seven factors contributing to American racism on Phys.org
Original Article: The Psychology of American Racism on OSF Preprints
Image Credits: Library of Congress on Unsplash