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HOW PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE IMPEDES INTERSECTIONAL THINKING1

  • Phillip Atiba Goff (a1) and Kimberly Barsamian Kahn (a2)
Abstract
Abstract

Psychological science that examines racial and gender bias, primarily located within social psychology, has tended to discount the ways in which race and gender mutually construct each other. Lay conceptions of racial and gender discrimination tend to see racism as primarily afflicting men and sexism primarily afflicting White women, when in fact race and gender are interrelated and work together intersectionally. Ignoring women's experiences of racial discrimination produces androcentric conceptions of racisms—in other words, many definitions of racial discrimination are to some degree sexist (Goff et al., 2008). Similarly, privileging the experiences of White women produces narrow definitions of gender discrimination—in other words, many definitions of gender discrimination are to some degree racist, such that they serve to reinforce the current societal hierarchies. Psychological science sometimes appears to reflect such conceptions. The result is that the social science principally responsible for explaining individual-level biases has developed a body of research that can undervalue the experiences of non-White women (Goff et al., 2008). This article examines features of social psychological science and its research processes to answer a question suggested by this framing: is the current psychological understanding of racism, to some extent, sexist and the understanding of sexism, to some extent, racist? We argue here that the instruments that much of social psychological science uses to measure racial and gender discrimination may play a role in producing inaccurate understandings of racial and gender discrimination. We also present original experimental data to suggest that lay conceptions parallel social psychology's biases: with lay persons also assuming that racism is about Black men and sexism is about White women.2 Finally, we provide some suggestions to increase the inclusivity of psychology's study of discrimination as well as reasons for optimism in this area.

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Phillip Atiba Goff, Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1285 Franz Hall, Box 951563, Los Angeles, CA 90095–1563. E-mail: goff@psych.ucla.edu
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The authors would like to thank the Russell Sage Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies, and the William T. Grant Foundation for their generous support of this research and all the members of the Psychology of Social Justice Lab for their feedback on previous versions of this article.

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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
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