Denial of structural racism linked to anti-Black prejudice

June 5, 2022

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Denial of structural racism linked to anti-Black prejudice

People who deny the existence of structural racism are more likely to exhibit anti-Black prejudice and less likely to show racial empathy or openness to diversity, according to research published by the American Psychological Association (of which Alicia and I are members).

However, there were no similar findings for people who claimed they ignore race, which was instead associated with greater openness to diversity, the study found.

Researchers analyzed 83 previous studies on racism that included more than 25,000 participants. Denying structural racism and ignoring race is often considered to be two different types of colorblind racial ideology, but researchers and educators need to delineate between them because they appear to have very different outcomes, said the lead researcher. The study was published online in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

What the researchers say: “The denial of structural racism appears to be a big barrier to racial equity because it allows for more victim-blaming explanations of systemic inequality,” she said. “The more that BIPOC [Black, indigenous and people of color] individuals are blamed for racial disparities, the less likely it is for white people and institutions to take responsibility for the continued effects of systemic racism.”

Denial of structural racism was more closely linked to anti-Black prejudice than prejudice against other people of color. People who denied structural racism were also more likely to endorse stronger beliefs that societal inequality is acceptable and reported fewer intentions to engage in social justice behaviors. There were no similar findings for people who said they ignore race.

Even though there were no negative findings related to ignoring race, the lead author said, it is still an “insidious form of racism.”

“On its surface, ignoring racial group differences and emphasizing sameness as humans seems beneficial,” said the study’s co-author. “However, this approach can be a way for white people to avoid the discomfort associated with appearing prejudiced and become less willing to engage in anti-racist actions.”

Psychologists need to work with individuals to challenge their or others’ denial of structural racism as a means of working toward eradicating it, the researchers said. Other institutions, such as non-profits, corporations, and government agencies, should move from racially colorblind to racially conscious approaches that actively implement policies and procedures to promote racial equity.

So, what? This is a good and important piece of research, but it needs to be seen in the context of other research on bias and prejudice.

About 40-60% of prejudice against people who are or look different to us is genetically based according to a number of recent studies. We are, to some extent, programmed by our DNA to distrust the “other.” We are even willing to sacrifice our own self-interest to deny benefits to those that we perceive as “different” and therefore a “threat.”

Racism and other prejudice become widespread as more “others” are permitted to enter into the “tribe” whether that tribe is the workplace, the school, the club or association, or the citizenry of the country.

The only solution—as a ton of research has shown—is to emphasize commonality and minimize difference. This takes time and dedication. A genetic trait—such as fear of the other—can only be mitigated through the experience of commonality and by being rewarded for non-prejudicial and pro-social behavior.

Dr Bob Murray

Bob Murray, MBA, PhD (Clinical Psychology), is an internationally recognised expert in strategy, leadership, influencing, human motivation and behavioural change.

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