Racial anxiety

Rachel D. Godsil, L. Song Richardson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Many have embraced evidence from the mind sciences that our behaviors are often influenced by our implicit biases rather than our conscious beliefs. This is one reason why implicit bias has become a staple in trainings for judges, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and health care providers. While understanding that implicit bias is important, social science research demonstrates that implicit bias alone does not fully account for the racial dynamics that undermine student achievement and trigger disproportionately harsh discipline, diminish the efficacy of health care and affect morbidity and mortality rates, trigger harsher prison sentences, result in child removal, and lead to unnecessary uses of force by police against civilians. Following the "behavioral realist" approach to provide the most empirically accurate understanding of human behavior, in this Essay, we introduce "racial anxiety" as an additional lens for understanding racial disparities of all types. In the social psychological literature, racial anxiety refers to the concerns that often arise both before and during interracial interactions. People of color experience racial anxiety when they worry that they will be subject to discriminatory treatment. White people, on the other hand, experience it when they worry that they will be perceived as racist. Racial anxiety can influence behaviors and judgments in ways that contribute to significant and unwarranted racial disparities even in the absence of both conscious and implicit racial bias. Additionally, in concert with implicit racial bias, racial anxiety can aggravate interracial dynamics in ways that create significant harm. This Essay explores how racial anxiety operates, discusses its probable effects on police-civilian and doctor-patient interactions, and highlights interventions for mitigating its effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2235-2263
Number of pages29
JournalIowa Law Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


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