Whites distrust biracial people when their racial presentation varies, study finds

May 15, 2018 by Ken Branson, Rutgers University
In a multiracial society, people of biracial background sometimes find it necessary or advantageous to present themselves as members of one ethnic group or the other. A Rutgers study says white people react negatively to such "contextual racial presentation.". Credit: Rutgers University

Whites consider biracial people to be less trustworthy if they change their racial presentation depending on circumstances, Rutgers University-New Brunswick researchers find.

The study appears in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

Rutgers social psychologists Analia Albuja and Diana Sanchez studied how perceive biracial people who identify as biracial but who sometimes "present" themselves as one race or the other in different situations.

In the 2010 U.S. Census, nine million people identified themselves as "multiracial" (chose more than one race), and 30 percent said they had, at some point, presented themselves as members of one race or another.

In a series of five studies, the researchers asked hundreds of white people to review blog posts purportedly written by people who identified as black and white or Asian and white. Some of the "bloggers" indicated that when applying for jobs or college admission or when filling out government forms, they sometimes presented themselves as biracial and sometimes as one race or the other.

The researchers coined a term for presenting oneself as a member of one race in some contexts and of another in another context: contextual racial presentation, or CRP.

Sanchez and Albuja, the lead author and a psychology graduate student in the School of Graduate Studies, recruited several hundred white subjects to take part in the studies online. The researchers asked their subjects to fill out online questionnaires designed to elicit their impressions of the bloggers. How trustworthy were they? How likeable were they? Was their behavior—whether or not they presented themselves contextually—right or wrong?

The results showed that across the board—regardless of whether the "bloggers" presented themselves as white or members of a minority or whether they could benefit from their choice—white people perceived them as less trustworthy and likeable than biracial people who didn't present contextually. The white people were more likely than not to object to such presentation on moral grounds. However, when the bloggers didn't have a choice in the matter (some forms didn't have a category for bi-racial people), white people were more lenient.

Sanchez said she and Albuja chose white participants exclusively for the studies because they have a position of privilege in U.S. society and have more ability to set rules and norms for how people of different races are perceived.

Explore further: Scholar examines biracial youth's political attitudes and self-identification factors

More information: Analia F. Albuja et al. Fluid racial presentation: Perceptions of contextual "passing" among biracial people, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2018.04.010

Related Stories

Biracial and passing -- as black

December 14, 2010

In a country with Jim Crow segregation laws and the "one-drop rule" determining who was black and therefore where and what a person was permitted to be, it's easy to see why those who plausibly could, might pass as white. ...

Gentrification draws more whites to minority neighborhoods

May 1, 2018

Residents and anti-gentrification activists tend to fear gentrification will lead to displacement by white residents while some experts believe it's an optimistic sign of an economic boom that would enable people to rise ...

Recommended for you

Solving the mystery of an unusual medieval text

July 20, 2018

When historian Rowan Dorin first stepped onto the Stanford campus in early 2017, he made it a habit to visit Green Library every week to dig through its collection of medieval documents and objects.

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

24volts
2.3 / 5 (3) May 15, 2018
Well, if someone can't even make up their own mind as to who they are why should other people be able to make any sense out of them?
EyeNStein
not rated yet May 16, 2018
This may reflect on the unreality of online life, where misrepresentation and trolling are commonplace, more than the people themselves.
Biracial folk would be fascinating to talk to. They would have a unique insight into racial conflict in society. ( Much better than white sociologists with hidden worldview assumptions.)

If someone could interpret these conflicts in a way that both sides can understand: Then hopefully scared white cops wouldn't end up shooting angry black guys, who wont back down when shouted commands at, so often!
antialias_physorg
not rated yet May 16, 2018
Can someone explain this whole issue with race/color to me that a lot of people seem to have? What has that got to do with the person?
Doug_Nightmare
not rated yet May 16, 2018
We are known by the company that we keep. SHUN ICKY

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.