White out of mind: Identity suppression as a coping strategy among Whites anticipating racially charged interactions

Christopher K. Marshburn, Eric D. Knowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Discussing racial issues often makes Whites anxious, particularly when their conversation partners are Black. We theorized that Whites seek to avoid anxiety by suppressing thoughts of White identity prior to such interactions. In Study 1, White participants expected to discuss a race-related or nonracial topic with a Black or White partner. An Implicit Association Test (IAT) measured subsequent changes in the activation of participants’ White identities (i.e., self–White associations). The prospect of discussing race-related (vs. nonracial) topics with a Black partner reduced participants’ self–White associations, implying identity suppression. Moreover, participants’ nonverbal responses suggest that identity suppression functioned to mute participants’ anxiety. In Study 2, participants completed the identity activation measure only after learning that they would not interact with a partner. Consistent with “rebound” effects known to follow suppression, participants who previously expected to discuss a race-related topic with a Black partner showed heightened self–White associations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)874-892
Number of pages19
JournalGroup Processes and Intergroup Relations
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship under Grant No. DGE-0808392.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2017.


  • anxiety
  • coping
  • identity
  • interracial interaction
  • whiteness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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