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METASTEREOTYPES AND THE BLACK-WHITE DIVIDE: A Qualitative View of Race on an Elite College Campus

  • Kimberly C. Torres (a1) and Camille Z. Charles (a1)

We employ qualitative in-depth and focus group data to examine how racial stereotypes affect relations between Black and White undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania. Specifically, we employ the concept of metastereotypes—Blacks' knowledge and perceptions of the racial attitudes that Whites have of Blacks. Our interest is in the accuracy of Black students' beliefs about Whites' racial attitudes to their group, and the consequences of metastereotypical thinking for Black students' academic performance. We find that the Black students in our sample possess some clear and largely negative metastereotypes concerning how Whites generally think about Blacks, and these metastereotypes are quite accurate. Moreover, these negative group images are at the heart of a key campus “problem”—Whites' hostility to affirmative action and the assumption that Blacks are not qualified to be at the university; and, ironically, most Blacks seem to have internalized a piece of these negative stereotypes. These results are a tangible manifestation of double-consciousness—Blacks' perceptions of themselves both through their own eyes and through the eyes of Whites, and evidence of Steele's theory of stereotype threat, in as much as Black students expend considerable energy attempting to debunk the myth of Black intellectual inferiority.

Corresponding author
Asst. Prof. Camille Z. Charles, Department of Sociology, Center for Africana Studies & Population Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 3718 Locust Walk, 113 McNeil Building, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6299. E-mail:
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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race
  • ISSN: 1742-058X
  • EISSN: 1742-0598
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