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Monday, April 12, 2021

Structuring Local Environments to Avoid Diversity: Anxiety Drives Whites’ Geographical and Institutional Self-Segregation Preferences

Anicich, E., Jachimowicz, J., 
(2021, February 16). 


The current research explores how local racial diversity affects Whites’ efforts to structure their local communities to avoid incidental intergroup contact. In two experimental studies (N=509; Studies 1a-b), we consider Whites’ choices to structure a fictional, diverse city and find that Whites choose greater racial segregation around more (vs. less) self-relevant landmarks (e.g., their workplace and children’s school). Specifically, the more time they expect to spend at a landmark, the more they concentrate other Whites around that landmark, thereby reducing opportunities for incidental intergroup contact. Whites also structure environments to reduce incidental intergroup contact by instituting organizational policies that disproportionately exclude non-Whites: Two large-scale archival studies (Studies 2a-b) using data from every U.S. tennis (N=15,023) and golf (N=10,949) facility revealed that facilities in more racially diverse communities maintain more exclusionary barriers (e.g., guest policies, monetary fees, dress codes) that shield the patrons of these historically White institutions from incidental intergroup contact. In a final experiment (N=307; Study 3), we find that Whites’ anticipated intergroup anxiety is one driver of their choices to structure environments to reduce incidental intergroup contact in more (vs. less) racially diverse communities. Our results suggest that despite increasing racial diversity, White Americans structure local environments to fuel a self-perpetuating cycle of segregation.

General Discussion

Across five studies using a mix of experimental, archival, and survey methods, we provide evidence of a cycle of intergroup avoidance that is reflected in Whites’ efforts to structure their local environments in ways that reduce incidental intergroup contact: Whites experience more intergroup anxiety in the face of local racial diversity, and as such, work to segregate themselves geographically and institutionally from racial outgroup members. This, in turn, reduces the likelihood of incidental intergroup contact, which has the potential for debiasing effects.Specifically, in Studies 1a and 1b, we found that when given the opportunity to do so, Whites exhibited a preference to racially self-segregate when making decisions about the racial distribution of residents in a diverse city even in a controlled experimental setting. In Studies 2a and 2b, we constructed a rich archival dataset using information about every tennis and golf facility in the United States. We found that the gatekeepers of these historically White institutions restrict access in more versus less racially diverse communities by maintaining private (vs. public) access, higher monetary barriers, and stricter dress codes. Finally, Study 3experimentally manipulated the racial composition of a fictitious city and found that Whites who imagined living in a more versus less racially diverse city more strongly endorsed exclusionary policies in their institutions and anticipated feeling more stressed when confronted with the prospect of navigating through a diverse part of town, effects which were statistically mediated by feelings of intergroup anxiety.

Taken together, the current research offers important insights into how local racial diversity shapes Whites’ intergroup avoidance strategies, and ultimately results in Whites structuring communities in ways that reduce incidental intergroup contact and the frequency of potentially debiasing encounters.Moreover, such decisions block critical opportunities (economic, social, etc.) for racial minorities themselves, thus contributing to the persistence of structural racism, even in the face of increasing racial diversity (see also Kraus & Torrez, 2020).