Deny, Distance, or Dismantle? How White Americans Manage a Privileged Identity

Eric D. Knowles, Brian S. Lowery, Rosalind M. Chow, Miguel M. Unzueta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social scientists have traditionally argued that whiteness—the attribute of being recognized and treated as a White person in society—is powerful because it is invisible. On this view, members of the racially dominant group have the unique luxury of rarely noticing their race or the privileges it confers. This article challenges this “invisibility thesis,” arguing that Whites frequently regard themselves as racial actors. We further argue that whiteness defines a problematic social identity that confronts Whites with 2 psychological threats: the possibility that their accomplishments in life were not fully earned (meritocratic threat) and the association with a group that benefits from unfair social advantages (group-image threat). We theorize that Whites manage their racial identity to dispel these threats. According to our deny, distance, or dismantle (3D) model of White identity management, dominant-group members have three strategies at their disposal: deny the existence of privilege, distance their own self-concepts from the White category, or strive to dismantle systems of privilege. Whereas denial and distancing promote insensitivity and inaction with respect to racial inequality, dismantling reduces threat by relinquishing privileges. We suggest that interventions aimed at reducing inequality should attempt to leverage dismantling as a strategy of White identity management.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)594-609
Number of pages16
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 24 2014


  • White identity
  • White privilege
  • identity management
  • meritocracy
  • threat

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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