Aversive racism

Aversive racism is a theory proposed by Samuel L. Gaertner & John F. Dovidio (1986), according to which negative evaluations of racial/ethnic minorities are realized by a persistent avoidance of interaction with other racial and ethnic groups. As opposed to traditional, overt racism, which is characterized by overt hatred for and discrimination against racial/ethnic minorities, aversive racism is characterized by more complex, ambivalent expressions and attitudes.[1][2]

Aversive racism was coined by Joel Kovel to describe the subtle racial behaviors of any ethnic or racial group who rationalize their aversion to a particular group by appeal to rules or stereotypes (Dovidio & Gaertner, p. 62).[1] People who behave in an aversively racial way may profess egalitarian beliefs, and will often deny their racially motivated behavior; nevertheless they change their behavior when dealing with a member of a minority group. The motivation for the change is thought to be implicit or subconscious. Though Kovel coined the term, most of the research has been done by John F. Dovidio and Samuel L. Gaertner.[3]

Implicit versus explicit racism

The social and political movements to eliminate racism in society have decreased overt displays of racism, known as explicit racism. Explicit racism includes any thoughts or behaviors that demonstrate a conscious acknowledgement of racist attitudes and beliefs. By contrast, implicit racism includes unconscious biases, expectations, or tendencies that exist within an individual, regardless of ill-will or any self-aware prejudices.

The passage of civil rights legislation and socially enforced taboos against explicit racism have served to inhibit direct outward expressions of prejudice against minorities over the last several decades.[4] But forms of implicit racism including aversive racism, symbolic racism, and ambivalent prejudice, may have come to replace these overt expressions of prejudice.[5] Research has not revealed a downward trend in implicit racism that would mirror the decline of explicit racism.[6]

Furthermore, implicit racism, when explicit racism is absent or rare, raises new issues. When surveyed about their attitudes concerning the racial climate in America, black people and white people had largely different perceptions, with black people viewing racial discrimination as far more impactful on income and education disparities,[7] and being far less satisfied in general with the treatment of minorities in America.[8] One explanation for this is that because explicit racism is so much less prevalent, Whites no longer perceive directly the ways that prejudice leaves its mark on American society; minorities, on the other hand, still recognize or feel the implicit racism behind certain interracial interactions.