Critical Race Studies in Psychology

Phia S. Salter and Andrea D. Haugen

Critical Race Psychology (CRP) is a theoretical framework that integrates the main themes articulated in critical race theory and facets of critical psychological approaches to understanding race and racism. Instead of viewing racism as a particular domain for investigation via psychological scientific tools, a CRP approach takes racial power as a conceptual lens through which to analyze all psychological phenomena and conduct psychological science itself. The intellectual foundations of CRP can be found primarily in critical race theory and critical social-psychological approaches to understanding race and racism.

Historically, social psychologists have approached the problems associated with racism as primarily stemming from the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of biased and prejudiced individuals (e.g., Allport, 1954). The models guiding much of mainstream social-psychological research tend to discuss racist phenomenon in terms of hostility, negative bias, or the result of ignorance among dominant group members who ultimately subject racial and ethnic minorities to differential treatment (Adams, Biernat, Branscombe, Crandall, & Wrightsman, 2008; see Goodman, this volume). Advances in social neuroscience have further tried to pinpoint the neural mechanisms that facilitate race-based ingroup versus outgroup biases and processing (e.g., Chekroud, Everett, Bridge, & Hewstone, 2014; Eberhardt, 2005). Taken together, traditional approaches locate the driving force

P.S. Salter (*) • A.D. Haugen

Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA © The Author(s) 2017

B. Gough (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Social Psychology, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-51018-1_7

behind racism in individual prejudices inside people’s minds. The models guiding much of mainstream social-psychological research decompose racist phenomena by reducing them to “basic” social-psychological processes like stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination as they apply equally to ingroups versus outgroups, majority versus minority, or high-status versus low-status groups. In other words, racism is assumed to be best understood as basic underlying components (representation and status) and/or equal to the sum of its parts (see “racism equals prejudice plus power”; Operario & Fiske, 1998).

In contrast, critical race perspectives within social psychology emphasize the extent to which most societies are deeply entrenched in racialized power asymmetries. Instead of aiming to discover whether there is racial bias inside one’s mind (whether implicit or explicit), critical race perspectives consider racism as fundamentally embedded in society; thus, racism is primarily located in the broader sociocultural context. From this perspective, the psychology of racism is best understood as the reproduction, maintenance, and internalization of preexisting, historically derived, systemic racial dynamics regardless of individual-level racial animus. This idea is elaborated on by several critical scholars across psychological subareas but also notably in psychological approaches that embrace critical race theory.

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