Self-presentation in interracial settings: The competence downshift by white liberals

Cydney H. Dupree, Susan T. Fiske

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

Most Whites, particularly sociopolitical liberals, now endorse racial equality. Archival and experimental research reveals a subtle but persistent ironic consequence: White liberals self-present less competence to minorities than to other Whites-that is, they patronize minorities stereotyped as lower status and less competent. In an initial archival demonstration of the competence downshift, Study 1 examined the content of White Republican and Democratic presidential candidates' campaign speeches. Although Republican candidates did not significantly shift language based on audience racial composition, Democratic candidates used less competence-related language to minority audiences than to White audiences. Across 5 experiments (total N = 2,157), White participants responded to a Black or White hypothetical (Studies 2, 3, 4, S1) or ostensibly real (Study 5) interaction partner. Three indicators of self-presentation converged: competencesignaling of vocabulary selected for an assignment, competence-related traits selected for an introduction, and competence-related content of brief, open-ended introductions. Conservatism indicators included self-reported political affiliation (liberal-conservative), Right-Wing Authoritarianism (values-based conservatism), and Social Dominance Orientation (hierarchy-based conservatism). Internal meta-analyses revealed that liberals- but not conservatives-presented less competence to Black interaction partners than to White ones. The simple effect was small but significant across studies, and most reliable for the self-reported measure of conservatism. This possibly unintentional but ultimately patronizing competence-downshift suggests that well-intentioned liberal Whites may draw on low-status/competence stereotypes to affiliate with minorities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-604
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Volume117
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

Keywords

  • Conservatives and liberals
  • Interracial versus intraracial interactions
  • Self-presentation
  • Warmth and competence

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