Superposition strategies: How and why White people say contradictory things about race –


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View ORCID ProfileMatthew W. HugheyaDepartment of Sociology, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269

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Edited by Douglas Massey, Office of Population Research, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ; received September 3, 2021; accepted December 8, 2021

AbstractDue to the centrality of race and racism in social, economic, and political life, coupled with the racially privileged position of White people, the assessment of White racial attitudes is an ongoing concern. There is a great deal of survey-based, quantitative work that demonstrates a compelling case of White attitudinal polarization—a grouping of authoritarian, racist attitudes versus another alliance of progressive, antiracist attitudes—an increasingly racialized culture war. However, other studies, largely qualitative and open-ended, demonstrate the heterogeneous, shifting, and hypocritical nature of White discourse about race. To resolve this paradox, I refrain from the assumption that White racial “attitudes” are essentially bifurcated, while I also refuse the contention that White people produce spontaneous narratives whole-cloth. Rather, I argue that with sustained attention to time, context, and triangulation, we can better understand how and why White people speak of People of Color in positive ways one moment and negative the next, marshaling both to defend, rationalize, or improve their racialized subject position. I argue that these contradictions are—à la Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment—“superposition strategies.” Both racist and antiracist attitudes are simultaneously alive and dead in the same individual or group. Contradictory White discourse helps maintain a sense of self-efficacy and coherent White racial identity within conflictual and politically supercharged social situations, as well as within racially unequal social structures.attitudesbifurcationidentityraceWhitenessFootnotesAuthor contributions: M.W.H. wrote the paper.The author declares no competing interest.This article is a PNAS Direct Submission.Data AvailabilityData cannot be shared. (The full data used in this work comes from previous ethnographic research approved by an IRB. Per the IRB stipulations, transcriptions of interviews and fieldnotes are not accessible to others.)Copyright © 2022 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.View Full Text

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