Disentangling Discrimination: Victim Characteristics as Determinants of the Perception of Behavior as Racist or Sexist


Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to C. A. Hartman, University of Amsterdam, Faculty of Psychology, Department of Methodology, Roetersstraat 15, 1018 WB Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


The present experiment examined the impact of victim characteristics on the judgment of behavior as being sexist or racist. Freshmen from the University of Amsterdam read eight scenarios describing instances of everyday discrimination. The race, gender, and socioeconomic status (SES) of the victims in the scenarios were varied systematically. Each scenario was followed by three consecutive questionnaires designed to assess the degree to which research participants perceived the behavior of the agent as racist, sexist, or otherwise. The asymmetry hypothesis for blacks of high and low SES was confirmed Blacks of low SES were more often considered to be victims of racism than blacks of high SES. However, contrary to the asymmetry hypothesis, we found that women of high rather than low SES were more likely to be considered victims of sexism. This finding is inconsistent with other results, and demonstrates that it is not always the less empowered group that is judged as being the most discriminated against. Further, this study demonstrates the relevancy of victim's SES in discrimination research. Finally, the importance of disentangling sexist and racist elements of discrimination is stressed, especially in research involving black women.