As a social psychologist interested in race and context, my research focuses on how context influences intergroup relations and social identity. The contexts in which we are confronted with issues of race vary from neighborhoods to online forums; I am interested in how features of these various contexts, such as their diversity or norms, may impact intergroup relations and how individuals experience their social identities.
RACIAL DIVERSITY AND INTERGROUP RELATIONS
It is projected that as early as 2055 we will become a majority-minority nation, meaning that minorities will make up majority of the population (Colby & Ortman, 2014). As we shift away from a population that is majority-White, it will become increasingly important to understand how these population shifts impact theory surrounding intergroup relations.
Conducting research in Hawaii–a uniquely majority-minority environment that simultaneously boasts one of the country’s largest multiracial population–has allowed me examine unique context effects in comparison to racially homogenous settings (e.g., the continental U.S.). For example, by examining students’ transition from the continental U.S. (traditionally majority-White) to Hawaii (majority-minority), I was able to test whether this shift in context influenced their conceptions of race. In a longitudinal study examining White individuals who were new to Hawaii, I found that over time, essentialist (biological, immutable, and concrete) conceptions of race were reduced (Pauker, Carpinella, Meyers, Young & Sanchez, in press).
How do racially diverse contexts influence race-related strategies?
Past research on colorblind ideology has established that majority members avoid talking about race in attempts to appear non-prejudiced and maintain egalitarianism. By contrast, in Hawaii (where majority members are Asian), different strategies are used to negotiate race relations, and instead race is used without concerns about appearing prejudiced. Specifically, I found that both Asian and White individuals follow the norm within their contexts: White and Asian individuals in majority-White contexts adopt colorblind ideologies while White and Asian individuals in majority-minority contexts do not (Meyers, Williams, Pauker, & Apfelbaum, in preparation).
In an effort to further investigate racial diversity’s influence on everyday intergroup behavior, I collected experience sampling data from participants in Hawaii. In this study I tracked participants’ daily exposure to outgroup individuals, the amount of interactions they had with outgroup individuals, whether they had conversations about race, and how comfortable they felt in doing so. With this study, I hope to understand how exposure to or interaction with racially diverse others on an everyday basis influences individuals’ likelihood of talking about race and their comfort with such conversations (Meyers & Pauker, in preparation).
How do racially diverse contexts influence experience of discrimination?
I have also examined White and people of color’s experiences with racial microaggressions in a majority-White context and compared whether experiences with racial microagressions are impacted by the racial diversity of a person’s context. I found that in majority-White contexts, people of color report experiencing more racial microagressions than Whites (Williams, Oliver, Aumer, & Meyers, 2016; Aumer, Meyers, Schriml, Janicki, Pauker, Chang, & Gaither, in preparation). When further decomposing the experience of monoracial White, monoracial people of color, and multiracial individuals in racially diverse compared to racially homogenous contexts, I found that people of color and multiracial individuals experience less microaggressions when in a racially diverse context (such as Hawaii) compared to racially homogenous contexts (such as the continental U.S.; Aumer, Meyers, Schriml, Janicki, Pauker, Chang, & Gaither, in preparation).
Along with examining the intergroup consequences of varied contexts, I am also interested in examining how context shapes social identity for those with multiple identities. One component of the increasing racial diversity in the U.S. population is an increasing multiracial population. In this second line of research, I am interested in understanding individuals who hold multiple racial identities and how their experiences differ across various contexts.
How do identity questionnaires impact Multiracial individuals’ well-being?
One context where racial identity may be particularly salient is when identifying yourself on a demographic questionnaire. I replicated previous findings where forcing multiracial individuals to choose a monoracial identity led to decreased psychological well-being. Furthermore, I found that self-reported (open response) identification moderated these results, such that only multiracial individuals who choose to identify as “multiracial” or any variation (e.g., mixed, hapa, etc.) reported lower psychological well-being (Meyers & Pauker, in progress). These findings highlight how context (in this case, a racial identity questionnaire) can interact with self-identification to predict multiracial individuals’ psychological well-being. I am currently extending these findings by examining how racial questionnaires can impact multiracial students in a University context. For example, when Universities ask for demographic information from students, do these types of questionnaires influence their sense of belonging to the University?
RACIAL ATTITUDES ONLINE
Communication and interactions with others is increasingly occurring online in Western societies, and thus my final line of research examines how intergroup attitudes operate in online contexts. One online context that has become prevalent recently is the proliferation of racially-themed Internet memes. Although people of color and Whites viewed racially charged memes to be equally offensive, for people of color (but not Whites) perceptions of racist memes was moderated by experience of discrimination offline. People of color, who experience significantly more microaggressions in their everyday life, perceived racially themed memes as more offensive compared to White individuals (Williams, Oliver, Aumer, & Meyers, 2016). If offline experiences can influence perceptions of online content, it may be possible that the reverse is true as well.
How does group identity impact perceptions of prejudice online?
I am currently conducting a series of studies that examine whether individuals’ perceptions of and reactions to racist content is influenced by exposure to individuals who confront prejudice (Meyers, Leon, & Williams; in progress). Understanding the conditions under which majority member allies can provide support for minority individuals who are targets of discrimination will be critical in understanding how to best mitigate the psychological consequences of experiencing such forms of prejudice online.