The Effects of Racial Categorization Struggle
Holmes, Olivia :
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Foundational social psychologists (e.g., Allport, 1954; Tajfel, 1969; Sherif, 1948) viewed categorization as an inevitability that eases the cognitive demands of encountering other people. However, there is limited evidence that perceivers struggle to categorize racially ambiguous targets (Molden & Higgins, 2004; Halberstadt & Winkielman, 2014)—i.e., persons that display features of multiple racial groups and/or whose features do not clearly signal any racial group—suggesting that racial ambiguity burdens, rather than eases, the demand of perceiving others. I explore the nature and extent of these burdens in the present research. I conduct 3 studies that test the downstream consequences of the struggle that monoracial White Americans experience when attempting to categorize racially ambiguous Black/White faces. Specifically, I first examine whether racially ambiguous (vs. unambiguous) faces (1) are difficult to categorize, (2) result in observers being uncertain of their category belonging, and (3) take more time to categorize (Study 1). I also test whether observers become consciously aware of this experience via self-reports of this challenging process (Study 1) and therefore attempt to resolve the categorization decision by asking specific questions about the target’s background (Study 2). Finally, I examine the consequences of this categorization struggle, for the extent to which observers experience negative affect and engage in racial stereotyping (Study 3). With this research, I challenge the dominant approach to examining racial categorization by recognizing a fact that is grossly understudied and under-acknowledged—namely, that race and racial categories are not static and that a growing, critical mass of people do not fit easily into the dominant racial categories commonly used in the United States. Broadly, this research will also add to understanding of social categorization processes by examining when social categorization and its downstream processes may burden rather than ease the demands of perceiving others. Implications for perceptions and experiences of Multiracial people, who often appear racially ambiguous, are discussed.
SubjectCategorization, Racial Categorization, Racial Ambiguity, Multiracial, Stereotypes