White Americans' Temporal Distancing of Racist History

Henderson, Kyshia, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Trawalter, Sophie, BA-Frank Batten School, University of Virginia

The racist history of the United States has long been dismissed and obscured. This history has come under attack with bans of “Critical Race Theory,” banning teaching of topics related the history of racism in K-12. This is a systemic way that history is distorted, by preventing its teaching. But this distortion might happen at the individual level as well. History might be distorted by White people temporally distancing race-related historical events. The present work investigates this distancing of race-related history and the factors that might contribute to distancing.

The present studies tested various hypotheses including whether White participants placed race-related events further in the past than race-unrelated events. In the first three studies, I developed a paradigm for measuring temporal distancing of race-related historical events and tested this hypothesis. In Pilot Study 1 and Pilot Study 2, I measured temporal distancing by comparing distancing of events that happened in the same year. In Pilot Study 3, participants placed race-related and race-unrelated events on a timeline. I found, with the latter study, that participants placed race-related events further in the past than the events occurred. Experiments 1 and 2, using the timeline task, tested whether this phenomenon was motivated by group status threat. In both studies, I replicated the Pilot Study 3 findings and also found that group status threat did not impact placement of race-related historical events. Taken together, this work reveals how White people engage with history in dishonest ways by distancing race-related history.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
racist history, temporal distancing
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