Do Racism and Sexism Go Together?

Racism and sexism appear to coexist in the minds of victims of either prejudice, according to new Rutgers research published in the journal Psychological Science.

That means the impact of racist and sexist behavior is broader than often believed, according to lead author Diana Sanchez, a social psychologist and an associate professor of psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences.

“This research shows that prejudice has far-reaching consequences that span beyond targeted groups,” Sanchez says. “White women may be harmed by racism and men of color harmed by sexism.”

Sanchez says the reason why racists are assumed to be sexist and sexists are assumed to be racist is their presumed mindset about hierarchy. “We found that prejudice transfers (between racism and sexism) because our participants believed that racist or sexist people thought that some groups of people should be on top and others not, that some groups of people are superior to others,” she says.

In the study, Sanchez and her colleagues used both online and laboratory experiments to understand how women and African-American and Latino men perceived prejudice exhibited by others. They discovered that women tended to believe that someone expressing racist attitudes would also be sexist, and that Latino and African-American men believed someone displaying sexist attitudes would also be racist. White men, the researchers found, while recognizing sexist and racist attitudes, did not necessarily feel threatened by them.

The research consists of five separate experiments.

In the first experiment, conducted online, the researchers asked 257 white men and women to read a profile filled out by an anonymous participant and containing clear signs of gender or racial prejudice.

“We asked them to form impressions of the people whose profiles they read, and then we asked them to answer a set of questions about their impressions,” Sanchez says. “Then, we asked them to imagine they were being evaluated for a job by the person who had filled out that profile. Did they think they’d be treated fairly by that person? Did they think they’d be devalued because of their gender or race? Did they think that person preferred a world in which some people were on top and others not?”

The white men in the group assumed that sexists were racists and racists were sexists, but did not generally feel threatened by the racism or sexism of the person whose profile they read. White women, on the other hand, feeling threatened by the sexist profiles, also felt threatened by the racist ones, assuming they would be sexist, as well.

The second study was like the first, except that the subjects were African-American, Latino and white men, and the profiles showed signs of sexism. Latino and African-American men were much more likely to expect racist behavior from the sexists in the profile than their white counterparts.

In the face-to-face experiments, people were paired with partners who, they were told, were evaluating their mock interviews or speeches. Again, women who thought their interviewers expressed racism anticipated being devalued and treated unfairly because of their gender.

“A great deal of psychological research examines whether racism and sexism coexist, and generally speaking this research finds that they do,” Sanchez says. “But what we didn’t know was whether people in stigmatized groups perceived that to be true. Now we know that people perceive and experience stigma in ways that extend beyond their own group.”

Sanchez’s co-authors were Sara Manuel, a graduate student in her lab at Rutgers, Leigh S. Wilton of Skidmore College and Jessica D. Remedios of Tufts University.

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