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.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Sociology and Political Science
- Conservatives and liberals
- Interracial versus intraracial interactions
- Warmth and competence