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McNair Scholars Program

Bayleigh Smith

She/her

Education: Bachelor of Science in psychology (August 2019)

Currently pursuing a Master of Arts in applied social psychology at Loyola University Chicago

McNair Project: To Empower or Disparage? Examining the Perceptions of Slurs Targeting the Racial Identity of White Individuals (2019)

Mentor: Don Saucier, Ph.D.

Racial slurs are vile terms that disparage individuals on the basis of their race. Existing research has focused on how racial slurs negatively impact minority targets and why majority group members use such derogative language. However, research examining racial slurs targeting majority group members (e.g., White individuals) is scant, yet research on perceptions of these slurs is important in potentially understanding the effects of, and discriminatory responses to, racial slurs. In the current studies, we examined White individuals’ perceptions of White racial slurs used by a Black individual toward a White individual. When people are targeted by group-based slurs, group differences become salient and calls to mind stereotypes. Thus, while then terms may be perceived negatively by White individuals, there may be a side effect of making the majority group member’s race salient, reminding them that their social group is at the top of the social status hierarchy. Thus, we predicted that racial slurs targeting White individuals will be simultaneously perceived as derogative and empowering. Our results supported this hypothesis with White racial slurs being used by a Black individual toward a White individual being perceived as more negatively expressive, but also more empowering than a control condition. These findings have important implications for the continued marginalization of lower status groups. Specifically, majority group members may be empowered and seek to reinforce existing status hierarchies and the disparagement they feel may potentially lead to increased justification of future discriminatory acts toward minority ingroup members.