Individual Differences in the Impact of Vicarious Racism: African American Students React to the George Zimmerman Trial

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Abstract

Objective: This research focused on how race-based rejection sensitivity (RS-Race) and components of racial identity intensify negative psychological reactions to an incident of vicarious racism. We examined how these individual difference variables directly and/or indirectly predicted African American students’ reactions to the trial of George Zimmerman in the killing of the African American teenager, Trayvon Martin. Method: In Study 1, 471 African American students completed measures of RS-Race, thought intrusions about the Zimmerman trial, and outcome variables (negative affect about the Zimmerman trial and forgiveness for Mr. Zimmerman). In Study 2, 304 African American students completed measures of racial identity (centrality, private regard, and public regard), thought intrusions about the Zimmerman trial, negative affect, and forgiveness. Results: In Study 1, higher RS-Race was either directly and/or indirectly (via thought intrusions) related to more negative affect and lower forgiveness. In Study 2, high racial centrality and low public regard either directly and/or indirectly (via thought intrusions) predicted more negative affect and lower forgiveness. Conclusions: RS-Race and specific components of racial identity are likely to sensitize African Americans to incidents of racism that happen to other African Americans, leading to negative psychological reactions when these events occur.

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