Utilizing White Identity to Dismantle Racial Privilege : A Proposed Study
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Social scientists have traditionally argued that White racial identity—the attribute of being recognized and treated as a White person in society—is powerful because it is invisible. In this view, members of the racially dominant group have the unique luxury of rarely noticing their race or the privileges it confers. This paper challenges this “invisibility thesis,” arguing that Whites frequently regard themselves as racial actors. We further argue that whiteness defines a problematic social identity that confronts Whites with two psychological threats: the possibility that their accomplishments in life were not fully earned (meritocratic threat) and the association with a group that benefits from unfair social advantages (group-image threat). Whites manage their racial identity to dispel these threats using three strategies: deny the existence of privilege, distance their own self-concepts from the White category, or strive to dismantle systems of privilege. Whereas denial and distancing promote insensitivity and inaction with respect to racial inequality, dismantling reduces threat by relinquishing privileges. We proposed a study where 100 White undergraduate students were assigned to one of four manipulations— one of which highlighted the importance of a combination of White privilege and personal merit in assessing an individual’s life outcomes. Having eliminated the meritocratic sting of privilege and therefore obviated the need for denial and distancing, we hypothesized that participants would embrace the remaining strategy—dismantling— in order to reduce the remaining threat to the group’s image.