What’s the effect of white people avoiding the topic of race?

White people – including children as young as 10 — may avoid talking about race so as not to appear prejudiced, according to new research. But that approach often backfires as blacks tend to view this “colorblind” approach as evidence of prejudice, especially when race is clearly relevant.

These results are from two separate sets of experiments led by researchers from Tufts University and Harvard Business School. Their findings are reported in the October issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and the September issue of Developmental Psychology. Both journals are published by the American Psychological Association.

...Black observers rated whites’ avoidance of asking about race as being evidence of prejudice. What’s more, when the researchers showed silent video clips of whites from the study to another group of individuals, those whites who avoided asking about race were judged as less friendly, just on the basis of their nonverbal behavior.

children as young as 10 feel the need to try to avoid appearing prejudiced, even if doing so leads them to perform poorly on a basic cognitive test,” said Kristin Pauker, a PhD candidate at Tufts and co-author of this study.

…”Our findings don’t suggest that individuals who avoid talking about race are racists,” Apfelbaum explained. “On the contrary, most are well-intentioned people who earnestly believe that colorblindness is the culturally sensitive way to interact. But, as we’ve shown, bending over backward to avoid even mentioning race sometimes creates more interpersonal problems than it solves.

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I explored discrimination with a number of studies here.

Another study showed that looking black can get you a longer jail sentence – even if you’re white. Signalling theory is fascinating to me. Robin Hanson just recommended The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life as the classic text in the field so it’s near the top of my “to-read” list. It would be at the top if it was available for Kindle (said with thinly veiled frustration.)

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