Beyond Black and White: Conceptualizing and Essentializing Black–White Identity

Steven O. Roberts*, Arnold K. Ho, Nour Kteily, Susan A. Gelman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective: Psychological research suggests that Black–White individuals are often conceptualized as Black and White, and that essentialist beliefs about race are negatively associated with conceptualizing Black– White individuals as such. The present research examined what people think it means to be Black and White (e.g., a mixture of Black and White vs. completely Black and completely White) and whether essentialism is indeed negatively associated with such concepts. Method: We used multiple methodologies (e.g., surveys, open-ended explanations, experimental manipulations) to examine how Black, White, and Black–White perceivers conceptualized Black–White individuals (Studies 1–3) and the extent to which essentialist beliefs, both dispositional (Studies 2–3) and experimentally induced (Study 4), predicted those concepts. Results: We find that U.S. Black–White individuals most often conceptualized “Black and White” to mean a mixture of Black and White (Study 1), as did U.S. White individuals and U.S. Black individuals (Studies 2 and 3), and that racial essentialism—both dispositional (Studies 2 and 3) and experimentally manipulated (Study 4)—was positively associated with this conception. Conclusion: Our data shed new light on the complexity of race concepts and essentialism and advance the psychological understanding of Black–White identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13-28
Number of pages16
JournalCultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2022


  • Essentialism
  • Multiracial
  • Racial identity
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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