At the Crossroads of Race: Racial Ambiguity and Biracial Identification Influence Psychological Essentialist Thinking

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Abstract

Racial essentialism refers to the widely held belief that race is a biological, stable, and natural category. Although research finds very little evidence that race has biological underpinnings, racial essentialist beliefs persist and are linked to negative outgroup consequences. This study initially demonstrates that label and visual ambiguity concurrently inform racial categorization. It then tests whether exposure to racially ambiguous targets (a) challenges essentialism when ambiguous targets are labeled with biracial categories and (b) reinforces essentialism when ambiguous targets identify with monoracial categories. The results showed that White perceivers (N = 84) who were exposed to racially ambiguous, biracially labeled targets showed reductions in their essentialist thinking about race, whereas perceivers who were exposed to racially ambiguous, monoracially labeled targets showed increases in their essentialist beliefs.

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