Deny, Distance, or Dismantle? How White Americans Manage a Privileged Identity

Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9, 594-609, 2014

Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 15-26

17 Pages Posted: 19 Apr 2015

See all articles by Eric D. Knowles

Eric D. Knowles

New York University (NYU)

Brian S. Lowery

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Rosalind Chow

Carnegie Mellon University - David A. Tepper School of Business

Miguel Unzueta

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management

Date Written: September 31, 2014

Abstract

Social scientists have traditionally argued that whiteness — the attribute of being recognized and treated as a White person in society — is powerful because it is invisible. On this view, members of the racially dominant group have the unique luxury of rarely noticing their race or the privileges it confers. This article challenges this “invisibility thesis,” arguing that Whites frequently regard themselves as racial actors. We further argue that whiteness defines a problematic social identity that confronts Whites with 2 psychological threats: the possibility that their accomplishments in life were not fully earned (meritocratic threat) and the association with a group that benefits from unfair social advantages (group-image threat). We theorize that Whites manage their racial identity to dispel these threats. According to our deny, distance, or dismantle (3D) model of White identity management, dominant-group members have three strategies at their disposal: deny the existence of privilege, distance their own self-concepts from the White category, or strive to dismantle systems of privilege. Whereas denial and distancing promote insensitivity and inaction with respect to racial inequality, dismantling reduces threat by relinquishing privileges. We suggest that interventions aimed at reducing inequality should attempt to leverage dismantling as a strategy of White identity management.

Keywords: White identity, White privilege, identity management, meritocracy, threat

Suggested Citation

Knowles, Eric D. and Lowery, Brian S. and Chow, Rosalind and Unzueta, Miguel, Deny, Distance, or Dismantle? How White Americans Manage a Privileged Identity (September 31, 2014). Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9, 594-609, 2014, Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 15-26, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2595625

Eric D. Knowles (Contact Author)

New York University (NYU) ( email )

Bobst Library, E-resource Acquisitions
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New York, NY 10003-711
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Brian S. Lowery

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

655 Knight Way
Stanford, CA 94305-5015
United States

Rosalind Chow

Carnegie Mellon University - David A. Tepper School of Business ( email )

5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

Miguel Unzueta

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - Anderson School of Management ( email )

110 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1481
United States

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