University of Illinois at Chicago

How White Identity Forms Shape Black-White Interracial Interactions

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posted on 2018-11-27, 00:00 authored by Caitlyn Yantis
Although researchers and lay people alike often treat Whiteness as unmarked or invisible (Knowles & Peng, 2005), empirical work confirms that White Americans vary in how they think about their racial identity and the privilege it confers (Goren & Plaut, 2012). I extend this previous research by conceptualizing White racial identity as an intersection of racial identity strength and racial privilege awareness. Additionally, I test for the first time how White identity—as defined by racial identity strength and racial privilege awareness—shapes both White and Black Americans' psychological experiences as they approach an interracial encounter. Although strong White identity is often associated with racial outgroup prejudice (Vorauer & Turpie, 2004) and less positive Black-White interracial interactions (Dovidio, Kawakami, & Gaertner, 2002), I predicted that Whites' privilege awareness would shift this pattern. Because Black Americans tend to acknowledge Whites' racial privilege (Lowery & Wout, 2010) and perceived similarity to one's interaction partner leads to diminished concerns about being stereotyped negatively in an interracial encounter (i.e., metaperceptual concerns; Frey & Trop, 2006), I expected that Whites' strong privilege awareness would buffer their own as well as Blacks' metaperceptual concerns, and that this positive impact of privilege awareness on interaction outcomes would be most pronounced when Whites are high (vs. low) in identity strength. In Study 1, I found evidence for my 2-dimensional White identity model, and show that it impacts how similar Whites see themselves to Black Americans. In Study 2, White college students reported their metaperceptual concerns and interaction anxiety leading up to an interaction with a Black partner, and completed measures of both identity strength and privilege awareness. As Whites' privilege awareness strengthened, they expressed greater concerns that their Black interaction partner may stereotype them as racist or prejudiced, which led them to be more anxious and expect more challenges in the interaction. In Study 3, Black American adults expected to have an online video chat with a White person who varied in identity strength and privilege awareness, yielding a 2 (White racial identity strength: low, high) x 2 (White privilege awareness: low, high) between-subjects design. After learning this information about their partner, participants then reported their expectations for the interaction. Black Americans reported more metaperceptual concerns and more anxiety when their partner was high (vs. low) in White identity strength, but this pattern was not moderated by their partner's privilege awareness. I discuss how the way in which Whites are able to communicate their racial privilege awareness to Black Americans both verbally and behaviorally over time (i.e., as a reflection of anti-racist vs. self-presentation motives) may more strongly influence both White and Black Americans' interracial interaction appraisals than what I observed in the current studies. By including privilege awareness as a component of White racial identity, and by considering both White and Black Americans' perspectives, the current studies advance both the White racial identity and interracial interaction literatures, offering numerous future directions. Further, the current research suggests that interrogating Whiteness—including Whites' position in the U.S. racial hierarchy according to both White and Black people's perspective—is important for understanding how White and Black Americans relate to and interact with each other in our increasingly racially diverse society.



Bonam, Courtney


Bonam, Courtney



Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Committee Member

Molina, Kristine Roy, Amanda Forman, Tyrone Lewis, Amanda Taylor, Valerie

Submitted date

August 2018

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