Defining Racism Safely: The Role of Self-Image Maintenance on White Americans' Conceptions of Racism

Defining Racism Safely: The Role of Self-Image Maintenance on White Americans' Conceptions of Racism

By
Brian Lowery, Miguel M. Unzueta
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. November
2008, Vol. 44, Issue 6, Pages 1491-1497

We suggest that the need to maintain a positive self-image motivates White Americans to conceive of racism as a phenomenon rooted in individuals instead of institutions. They do so because an institutional conception of racism, more so than an individual conception of racism, raises their awareness of White privilege, a concept threatening to Whites’ self-image. In support of this idea, Experiment 1 found that a self-affirmation manipulation increased Whites’ willingness to conceive racism in institutional terms. Experiment 2 found that a self-image threat lowered Whites’ willingness to conceive racism in institutional terms. In neither experiment did the self-image maintenance manipulation affect Whites’ conceptions of individual racism, suggesting that the individual conception of racism may be a less ego-threatening way for Whites to conceive of racism.