Confronting Racism: When, Why, and How?

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In the face of a transition from Jim Crow era to modern era discrimination, this pilot study was conducted to better understand when, why, and how individuals confront racism. We defined blatant racism as overt and subtle racism as more ambiguous (Pettigrew & Meertens, 1995). Subtle racism is more difficult to detect for both targets and witnesses. Consequently, individuals who witness or experience subtle racism are less likely to confront the perpetrator (Ashburn-Nardo et al., 2008). The ambiguity of these situations leaves the targets questioning their own individual characteristics and those of the perpetrator rather than confronting the perpetrator. Many people are hesitant to accuse someone of being racist because it is unclear how that person will react (Ashburn-Nardo et al., 2008). Fairness theory (Folger & Cropanzano, 2001), and the influence of intent on judgements of fairness posed by Swim et al. (2003), were conceptualized as the basis for our hypotheses. We hypothesized that blatant racism will lead to greater probability of confrontation/wanting to confront and greater racist perceptions than subtle racism. Secondly, we hypothesized that witnesses that are the same race as targets will be less likely to confront/want to confront the perpetrator, but more likely to perceive the perpetrator as a racist. Our findings supported the first hypothesis but did not support the second. Although not the focus of our research, the behavior of our President is relevant because the lack of confrontation of his supporters’ blatantly racist behavior is reminiscent of the racism from the Jim Crow era. Implications and suggestions for future research are discussed.