"I'm not racist!" : white fragility and mindset theories of racial bias
Zach W. Rahmes
Danica J. Wilbanks
May 9, 2018
Department or Program
White fragility describes a white person’s hypersensitivity to racial stress due to insulation from racial diversity. White fragility elicits displays of defensiveness, avoidance, or guilt in response to racial stress. Dweck (2011)’s mindset theory suggests that individuals’ approaches to racial stress vary based on whether they view racial bias as fixed or malleable. We tested the hypothesis that individuals who underwent a malleable mindset intervention of racial bias would display less guilt, defensiveness, and avoidance when confronted with racial stress compared to individuals who underwent a fixed mindset intervention of racial bias. White participants (N = 47) read an ostensibly real article describing either the malleable or fixed nature of racial bias. Participants then self-reported their mindset of racial bias. They then completed three dependent measures. First, they were given hypothetical scenarios designed to elicit racial stress, and their verbal responses were recorded. Second, they read an article designed to trigger white fragility and reported their emotional responses. Third, they were asked to indicate how interested they would be in reading news stories that engage with racial stress, validate fragility reactions, or avoid race entirely. Results show there was no effect of intervention on displays of white fragility, but there were significant relationships between reported mindsets of racial bias and several white fragility variables. Individuals with more malleable mindsets of racial bias displayed less avoidance and defensiveness and more openness than individuals with more fixed mindsets. The findings indicate a relationship between mindset of racial bias and white fragility behaviors.