Explaining Backyard Racism to Caucasians: Sympathy or Defensiveness?

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Mary Inman, Hope College

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Colleges often report racial tensions and misunderstandings about college parties that hurt students of color (www.tolerance.org). What can researchers do to help Caucasians understand that a campus Ghetto party where Caucasian students acted like gang members reflects racism? We presented a news story describing an offensive Ghetto party. We manipulated the location of the party (own college or different college in another state) and whether Caucasians were given an explanation of why the party was offensive, in order to test how location and explanations affected Caucasians’ emotions (sympathy for the offended students or defensiveness) and perception of whether the party reflected racism. Results showed that defensiveness occurred, especially when racism was explained. People who learned that the party was far away and were NOT given any explanation saw the party as racism much more than the other three conditions. Activists may want to first present ingroup offenses and then gradually provide the explanations and locations of such offenses.

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