Is Racism a Male Thing? Study Suggests That Men Have Less Tolerance Than Women

By Farrell, Charles S. | Black Issues in Higher Education, October 3, 1996 | Go to article overview
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Is Racism a Male Thing? Study Suggests That Men Have Less Tolerance Than Women

Farrell, Charles S., Black Issues in Higher Education

A new study that suggests racism within small groups

appears to affect men more than women may have

immense implications.

Jury verdicts could be swayed, military strategies

changed, business decisions influenced because of the

racial composition of a group, according to Dr. Larry E.

Davis, one of the authors of the study and a professor of

social work and psychology at the George Warren Brown

School of Social Work at Washington University in St.


"While many people might consider that an equal

number of Black males and an equal number of white

males would be an ideal composition when working on a

project, our study shows that that might be the worst

thing to do, setting up all kinds of conflict," Davis said.

Interestingly, all-women work groups were less

affected by the racial balance of the group, leading Davis

to conclude that gender is a factor in racism.

Co-authored by Dr. Michael J. Strube, a professor of

psychology in arts and sciences at Washington

University, the research is based on experiments with 120

undergraduate college students. The students were

assigned to four-person, same-sex groups with varying

racial compositions -- one Black and three whites (25

percent), two Blacks and two whites (50 percent), and

three Blacks and one white (75 percent). Each group was

then given a decision-making task to perform.

Davis and Strube later interviewed individual

members of the groups to assess the experience. The

researchers were interested in satisfaction with group

performance, confidence in group decisions, and

willingness to work with the group in the future. The

study showed that men had the most difficulty working

in groups with equal numbers of Black and whites, while

women in the same situation were able to reach a

resolution without negative conflict.

Threatening Majority Status

Davis said the study supports other research on race

relations that suggests that white males react negatively

when their majority status is threatened.

Studies of housing and school integration have shown

that white males reach an "uncomfortable" level when

Black representation reaches about 30 percent, a level he

called "the tipping point."

"In our model, conflict occurs most at the 50-50

racial split," Davis said. "This is where the highest

conflict and most hostility came."

He theorized that this may be because in the 50-50

group there is a struggle for dominance, while in the other

groups, the majority dominated, whether it was Black or


When Blacks are in the minority in the group,

conflict is avoided because Blacks are accustomed to

being outnumbered, Davis said, so their racial tolerance

is higher. When Blacks are in the majority in the groups,

they may feel empowered by their numbers, he


So why don't women fit the same pattern when

groups are formed along racial lines?

"It says to us that women -- groups of Black and

white women -- have a higher probability of interacting

with less conflict," Davis said. "Women, for whatever

reason, seem to be less conflict-prone and, as a

consequence, race was less important."

"It could be that control and power are not as

important in female groups, perhaps because

important women traditionally are more conditioned to

be accommodating in social situations," said Strube in a

written description of the study.

So, is it gender or race that makes Black men and

white men more likely to be in conflict?

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Is Racism a Male Thing? Study Suggests That Men Have Less Tolerance Than Women


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