Thursday, June 18, 2015

Cognitive Costs of the Colorblind Narrative

Contributed by Sarah Jane Schmidt

There are two opposing narratives that describe the inclusion of ethnic minorities in the workplace. Colorblindness downplays the differences between people of different ethnicities and focuses on their shared humanity (similar to "not seeing race"), while multiculturalism highlights the differences between those people. While the colorblind narrative currently dominates our society, it is problematic for many reasons (and is often used as an excuse to ignore white privilege).

This study (Holoien & Shelton 2012) was designed to study cognitive depletion of ethnic minorities in paired interactions with white people. In 78 total same-sex pairs (31 white/white, 25 white/asian, 23 white/black), the white person (or one of the white people) was given an ideological prime designed to champion either colorblindness or multiculturalism. The pair then interacted for 5 minutes about race (which was filmed and coded), then each participant took a test designed to measure cognitive performance (essentially, measuring how quickly and well each one is thinking).

During the pair's interactions about race, white people who were primed with colorblindness were more likely to downplay to importance of racial issues and say more racist things than those who were primed with multiculturalism. The ethnic minorities paired with colorblind primed white people were also significantly more cognitively depleted than the partners of white people primed with multiculturalism. The conclusion is that the colorblind narrative causes cognitive depletion for ethnic minorities, likely due to the decreased racial sensitivity displayed by white people who are "colorblind."


Discussion Questions

  • How does the prevalence of a colorblind narrative affect people of color in STEM fields?
  • What are some other ways that then colorblind narrative is harmful?
  • What does multiculturalism mean to you?
  • How can you embrace a multicultural environment?
  • Microaggressions
  • White Privilege
  • Colorblindness/"not seeing race"

Suggested tags

racism, academic culture, department climate, PoC, WoC

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