The social construction of race: Biracial identity and vulnerability to stereotypes

These experiments focussed on stereotype threat processes in mono- versus multi-racial individuals. It was hypothesized that multiracial individuals might suppress racial stereotypes in conditions in which race is salient. Experiment 1 had multi-racial, White, and minority students complete a questionnaire about attitudes concerning race. Multiracial individuals were less likely to see race as a barrier, report that their parents emphasized race, and believe that race can biologically determine personality or ability, and were more comfortable pursuing intimate relationships with people of a different racial background compared with monoracial individuals. In Experiment 2, Asian-American, White, and Asian/White biracial students completed a demographic questionnaire that solicited information about their race (race salient) or a questionnaire that did not mention race (control), then completed a task in which they had to indicate which of a series of letter strings constituted words. Half the actual words were stereotypic for Asians and half were stereotype-irrelevant. Asians were faster to classify Asian-stereotypic words than were Asian/White students and White students. In Experiment 3, White, Black, Asian (monoracial), Asian/White (biracial) and Black/White (biracial) students completed a quantitative test after completing one of the questionnaires from Experiment 2 that either did or did not highlight race. Asian and White students performed better when race was made salient (indicating stereotype lift), but biracial students were unaffected by the manipulation of race salience. Surprisingly, Blacks performed equally well in the two conditions. In Experiment 4, non-Asian students read an essay about the social construction of race and were asked to write an essay agreeing that race is socially constructed (agree social construction), disagreeing with the notion that race is socially constructed (disagree social construction), or to simply circle nouns and underline verbs in the essay (control). Following the essay task, students were either exposed to Asian-relevant words (Asian prime inducing stereotype threat for non-Asians) or a set of neutral words (neutral prime) and then completed the quantitative test from Experiment 3. In contrast with the other conditions, students who were instigated to disagree with the position that race is socially constructed performed more poorly in the Asian prime condition than in the neutral prime condition. Thus, emphasizing the social construction, and de-emphasizing the biological basis, of race appears to reduce vulnerability to stereotype threat. Moreover, to the degree that multiracial identity promotes the understanding that race is socially constructed, biracial individuals may be less susceptible to stereotype threat.

Shih, M., Bonam, C., Sanchez, D., & Peck, C. (2007). The social construction of race: Biracial identity and vulnerability to stereotypes. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 13, 125-133.