From Ignorance to Intolerance: Perceived Intentionality of Racial Discrimination Shapes Preferences for Colorblindness Versus Multiculturalism

From Ignorance to Intolerance: Perceived Intentionality of Racial Discrimination Shapes Preferences for Colorblindness Versus Multiculturalism

By
Evan P. Apfelbaum, Rebecca Grunberg, Nir Halevy, Sonia Kang
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. March
2017, Vol. 69, Pages 86-101

Colorblindness and multiculturalism offer divergent prescriptions for reducing racial tensions. Colorblindness encourages looking beyond racial differences, whereas multiculturalism encourages recognizing them. We introduce a new construct, perceived intentionality of racial discrimination (PIRD)—individuals’ beliefs about how intentional discrimination is — to help explain when and why colorblindness versus multiculturalism will be preferred, and potentially more effective, for improving race relations. We first establish the distinctiveness of the PIRD construct and assess its stability over time and across intergroup contexts (Studies 1–2). We then observe that greater PIRD predicts beliefs that colorblindness versus multiculturalism will improve race relations (Studies 2–5), in part because unintentional (versus intentional) discrimination is perceived to stem from ignorance and misunderstanding versus knowingly treating racial groups unequally (Studies 4, 5b). Evidence also suggests that PIRD may shape the actual merits of colorblindness and multiculturalism for improving race relations via encouraging donations (Study 6), positive interracial interaction intentions (Study 7), and comfort with discussing race following the widely-publicized shooting of a Black teen (Study 8). Taken together, our empirical findings demonstrate the usefulness of PIRD for understanding, predicting, and influencing individuals’ preferences for colorblindness versus multiculturalism.