Racial Anxiety

30 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2017 Last revised: 26 Aug 2017

Date Written: August 15, 2017


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 effects on police–civilian and doctor patient interactions, and highlights interventions for mitigating its effects.

Suggested Citation

Godsil, Rachel D. and Richardson, L. Song, Racial Anxiety (August 15, 2017). Iowa Law Review, Vol. 102, No. 5, 2017, Forthcoming, UC Irvine School of Law Research Paper No. 2017-40, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3019388

Rachel D. Godsil

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States

L. Song Richardson (Contact Author)

Colorado College ( email )

14 East Cache La Poudre Street
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
United States

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