Racial Anxiety

Author:Rachel D. Godsil & L. Song Richardson
Position:Eleanor Bontecou Professor of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law. J.D., University of Michigan Law School/Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, University of California, Irvine School of Law. J.D., The Yale Law School; A.B., Harvard College
Pages:2235-2263
SUMMARY

Many have embraced evidence from the mind sciences that our behaviors are often influenced by our implicit biases rather than our conscious beliefs. This is one reason why implicit bias has become a staple in trainings for judges, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and health care providers. While understanding that implicit bias is important, social science research demonstrates that implicit... (see full summary)

 
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2235
Racial Anxiety
Rachel D. Godsil & L. Song Richardson**
ABSTRACT: Many have embraced evidence from the mind sciences that our
behaviors are often influenced by our implicit biases rather than our conscious
beliefs. This is one reason why implicit bias has become a staple in trainings
for judges, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and health care providers. While
understanding that implicit bias is important, social science research
demonstrates that implicit bias alone does not fully account for the racial
dynamics that undermine student achievement and trigger disproportionately
harsh discipline, diminish the efficacy of health care and affect morbidity and
mortality rates, trigger harsher prison sentences, result in child removal, and
lead to unnecessary uses of force by police against civilians. Following the
“behavioral realist” approach to provide the most empirically accurate
understanding of human behavior, in this Essay, we introduce “racial
anxiety” as an additional lens for understanding racial disparities of all
types.
In the social psychological literature, racial anxiety refers to the concerns that
often arise both before and during interracial interactions. People of color
experience racial anxiety when they worry that they will be subject to
discriminatory treatment. White people, on the other hand, experience it when
they worry that they will be perceived as racist. Racial anxiety can influence
behaviors and judgments in ways that contribute to significant and
unwarranted racial disparities even in the absence of both conscious and
implicit racial bias. Additionally, in concert with implicit racial bias, racial
anxiety can aggravate interracial dynamics in ways that create significant
harm. This Essay explores how racial anxiety operates, discusses its probable
Eleanor Bontecou Professor of Law, Seton Hall University School of Law. J.D., Univers ity
of Michigan Law School; B.A., University of Wisconsin, Madison.
** Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, University of
California, Irvine School of Law. J.D., The Yale Law School; A.B., Harvard College.
The authors wish to thank Phillip Atiba Goff, Alexis McGill Johnson, john a. powell, and Linda
R. Tropp for their input and Zackory Burns for excellent research assistance. Song Richardson
also wishes to express gratitude to her colleagues Mario Barnes, Alex Camach o, Erwin
Chemerinsky, Seth Davis, Joe DiMento, Michele Goodwin, Kaaryn Gustafson, Katie Porter, T ony
Reese, Benjamin van Rooij, and Chris Whytock as well as Tracey Meares and participants in the
Criminal Justice Roundtable at The Yale Law School for comments on an earlier version of this
Essay. Finally, we thank the editors of the Iowa Law Review, and specifically Alyssa Carlson,
Matthew Cubin, and Andrew Stanley for their work editing this Essay.
2236 IOWA LAW REVIEW [Vol. 102:2235
effects on police–civilian and doctor–patient interactions, and highlights
interventions for mitigating its effects.
I. INTRODUCTION ........................................................................... 2236
II. EMPIRICAL UNDERPINNINGS OF RACIAL ANXIETY ....................... 2240
A. COGNITIVE AND PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF RACIAL
ANXIETY ............................................................................... 2242
B. BEHAVIORAL MANIFESTATIONS OF RACIAL ANXIETY ............... 2245
III. RACIAL ANXIETY IN POLICING AND HEALTH CARE ..................... 2247
A. POLICE–CIVILIAN INTERACTIONS ........................................... 2248
1. Effects on Officers ....................................................... 2248
2. Effects on Individuals .................................................. 2251
B. HEALTH CARE ...................................................................... 2253
1. Effects on Health Care Providers ............................... 2254
2. Effects on Patients ....................................................... 2255
IV. OVERCOMING RACIAL ANXIETY .................................................. 2256
A. PRIMING FOR POSITIVE INTERGROUP CONTACT ....................... 2256
B. STRATEGIES TO MINIMIZE RACIAL ANXIETY............................ 2258
1. Acknowledging Anxiety .............................................. 2259
2. Scripts ........................................................................... 2260
3. Malleability of Prejudice ............................................. 2260
4. Learning Goals ............................................................ 2261
C. AVOIDING RACIAL ANXIETY TRIGGERS ................................... 2262
V. CONCLUSION .............................................................................. 2262
I. INTRODUCTION
The question of whether “racial anxiety and anguish” determined the
outcome of the 2016 presidential election is now fodder for political scientists
and armchair commentators trying to make sense of the unanticipated.1
Whether a majority of White voters were responding to a sense that an
impending demographic shift was rendering them irrelevant, the fear
triggered by vitriolic campaign rhetoric, or unresolved ambivalence about
having elected a Black president, the term “racial anxiety” used by
commenters in the context of the 2016 election cycle is a popularized version
1. Jenée Desmond-Harris, Trump Seized Upon Obama-Inspired Racial Anxiety—and Won, VOX
(Nov. 11, 2016, 1:20 PM), http://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2016/11/11/13587728/
trump-president-obama -racism-racial-anxi ety (quoting Eddie Glaude, chair of Princeton
University’s Center for African American Studies). See generally Robb Willer et al., Threats to Racial
Status Promote Tea Party Support Among White Americans (Stanford Graduate Sch. of Bus., Working
Paper No. 3422, 2016), http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abs tract_id=2770186.

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