The Origins of Symbolic Racism

David O. Sears, P. J. Henry

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The theory of symbolic racism places its origins in a blend of anti-Black affect and conservative values, particularly individualism. We clarify that hypothesis, test it directly, and report several findings consistent with it. Study 1 shows that racial prejudice and general political conservatism fall into 2 separate factors, with symbolic racism loading about equally on both. Study 2 found that the anti-Black affect and individualism significantly explain symbolic racism. The best-fitting model both fuses those 2 elements into a single construct (Black individualism) and includes them separately. The effects of Black individualism on racial policy preferences are mostly mediated by symbolic racism. Study 3 shows that Black individualism is distinctively racial, with effects distinctly different from either an analogous gender individualism or race-neutral individualism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-275
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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