Raj Ghoshal presents research on Americans' views on race in Atlanta

The assistant professor of sociology analyzed how Americans define racism and political correctness, as well as their views on how race is determined. 

Raj Ghoshal, assistant professor of sociology, presented research on how Americans view race and racism at the Southern Sociological Society meetings in Atlanta.

In the 2018-19 academic year, Ghoshal noted an absence of survey research on how Americans define racism as well as gaps in research on how people determine racial identities. He designed a 1,100-person national survey to address these gaps.

The survey focused on three topics. First, how do Americans define key concepts including racism and political correctness? Second, what cues do Americans rely on most strongly in determining their own and other people's race? Third, to what extent do Americans believe that all members of a racial group are equally part of that group – for instance, can someone be more part of a race than someone else based on their physical appearance, self-identification, genetic profile, or other factors?

Ghoshal's early findings are suggestive of several conclusions. First, Americans are very unlikely to consider policies racist unless those policies overtly mention race, regardless of their consequences, and the widespread tendency to hold an interpersonal view of racism extends across all races.

Second, views on political correctness hinge in part on whether respondents are prompted to think about possible meanings of the term before responding, or instead are led to react more quickly.

Third, genetic/ancestral conceptions of race are more dominant than prior work has recognized. For instance, most Americans consider a person who grew up as, identifies as, and has always been treated as a member of a particular racial group to not actually be part of that group, if genetic testing reveals they do not have the biological ancestry usually associated with that group.

Finally, Americans' views on partial membership in racial groups are unstable. While most people reject the idea of partial membership in the abstract, the same individuals often support this idea when given concrete examples. This finding suggests that scholars' assumption that Americans see every person as either falling into a racial category or not is oversimplified. Rather, Americans see racial group membership as both a category and a continuum, simultaneously.

Ghoshal will continue additional data analysis for this research this summer. His work was partially supported by Elon's Provost's Office and Faculty Research & Development.