Looking for Similarities Can Bring Marginalized Groups Together
When African-American NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem in August 2016, he said it was in protest of “a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” Soon after, National Women’s Soccer League player Megan Rapinoe became the first non-Black professional athlete to also kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with Kaepernick. She explained her support by highlighting commonalities between her own experiences as a gay woman and the experiences of racial minorities.
“We need a more substantive conversation around race relations and the way people of color are treated,” Rapinoe told ESPN. “And quite honestly, being gay, I have stood with my hand over my heart during the national anthem and felt like I haven’t had my liberties protected, so I can absolutely sympathize with that feeling.”
Rapinoe’s support for Kaepernick may not seem surprising. People do tend to expect members of different disadvantaged groups to support one another. Researchers have also found that if people from one racial minority group (e.g., Asian Americans and Latino Americans) read about discrimination faced by their group, they then generally expressed that they felt more similar to and more positively toward another racial minority group (e.g., Black Americans). And there are certainly examples of different disadvantaged groups expressing support for one another in many situations. For example, Reverend Jesse Jackson’s “Rainbow Coalition” was a political organization created after his 1984 presidential campaign with the primary goal to advocate for people of all different disadvantaged groups.
“I have stood with my hand over my heart during the national anthem and felt like I haven’t had my liberties protected, so I can absolutely sympathize with that feeling.”
But examples can also be found in U.S. history of times when an injustice instead triggered conflict among minority groups. For example, White women feminists often face criticism for purportedly focusing their support on the experienced injustice of White women and largely neglecting issues facing women of color—a criticism that recently spurred the Twitter hashtag: #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. Conflict like this is consistent with social scientific theorizing: Feeling that one’s social group is under threat can elicit a defensive reaction in which people derogate groups to which they don’t belong and show preference for their own groups (i.e., intergroup bias). For example, if White women evaluate racial minorities after sexism is made salient, they may report feeling more relative pro-White/anti-minority bias. Similar patterns hold if straight racial minority group members evaluate sexual minorities after racism is made salient.
So, what predicts when minority groups are more likely to support each other?
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Clarissa Cortland is a postdoctoral research fellow at INSEAD (Singapore). She earned her Ph.D. in social psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles.
Maureen Craig is a professor of psychology at New York University. Her research explores the ways in which demographic trends toward increased diversity may have implications for individuals’ relations with people from different social groups. She received her Ph.D. from Northwestern University.