Outraged at Injustice: Do White People Confront Anti-Black Prejudice More When They Are Outraged?

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0003-2508-6050
Bak, Hyeonjin, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Trawalter, Sophie, Psychology and Frank Batten School of Public Policy, University of Virginia

White people, despite supporting racial equality in principle and endorsing egalitarianism, often do not confront racial prejudice when they see it. Therefore, it is important to understand what motivates White people to confront racial prejudice. The present work sets out to understand the role of emotions in motivating White people to confront anti-Black prejudice; specifically, it focuses on two primary prosocial emotions: empathy and outrage. I hypothesize that while both empathy and outrage in reaction to a prejudiced remark will increase confrontation intentions, White people will be more likely to confront anti-Black prejudice when they feel outrage than when they feel empathy towards targets of prejudice. I test this in a pilot study and three other studies. In a pilot study, participants read prejudiced comments, rated how they felt about each comment, and then wrote a confrontation to each comment, if they wished. Results revealed that outrage predicted willingness to confront, but empathy did not. In Study 1, participants read a prejudiced comment, allegedly left on a page of their college newspaper. Again, they rated how this comment made them feel and then wrote a confrontation, if they wished. Importantly, they were also told that, with their permission, we would submit this confrontation on their behalf. Results revealed that outrage predicted submitting a confrontation better than empathy. In Study 2, participants read prejudiced comments, rated how intentionally prejudiced and how harmful they thought each comment was, in addition to rating how each comment made them feel. Results revealed that harm ratings were disproportionately associated with empathy, but contrary to prediction, intent ratings were not disproportionately associated with outrage. Moreover, harm and intent ratings were significantly correlated. Internal analyses, however, replicated previous findings; that is, outrage predicted confronting better than empathy. Finally, in Study 3, participants read about a prejudiced comment that was either high or low in intent, and high or low in harm. Then, they rated how the comment made them feel and they were asked whether they would confront the comment. Results revealed that intent had no effect on confronting. However, there was a significant indirect effect of intent on confrontation through felt outrage. Moreover, among those who confronted, intent was associated with immediate and public confronting but harm was not, and this association was also mediated by felt outrage. Together, these data are consistent with the claim that outrage may be especially important for motivating White people to confront prejudice.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
confronting prejudice, emotions
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