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IACM 2023

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A License To Obliviousness: Positive Stereotypes Reduce Acknowledgement of Racial Discrimination

This paper investigates the role of a previously overlooked structural factor, positive stereotypes, in perpetuating racism. Despite salient social norms to appear egalitarian and unbiased, racial discrimination persists in society. I argue that the pressure to conform to egalitarian norms conflicts with the motive to justify the system and rationalize inequality, and hence people may rely on positive stereotypes to neglect egalitarian norms. Specifically, positive stereotypes of racial minorities are frequently seen as complimentary in nature, e.g., Asian people are good at math, Black people are good at sports, offering individuals a moral license to reduce acknowledgement of racial discrimination. Across four studies, I explore the effects of positive stereotypes of racial minorities, activated either when participants actively write about those stereotypes or are passively presented descriptions of racial minority targets with positive-stereotype-congruent information. I find that access to positive stereotypes licenses reduced acknowledgement of racial discrimination, which in turn reduces support for pro-equity practices such as allyship intentions. These findings reveal the systemic implications of positive stereotypes in obstructing equity and inclusion of racial minorities, and shed light on the importance of dismantling the often invisible harm done by positive stereotypes in perpetuating an unfair system.

Danqiao Cheng
UCLA Anderson School of Management
United States


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