Psychological False Consciousness

I read this article a while ago in the Journal of Black Psychology and found it very interesting. Now a days “color blindness” is prevalent in today’s society and many right wing (and liberals) activists use the term “color blind” to attack people of color and such programs as affirmative action. They use classic liberal arguments and turn them on their head by using the same tactics liberals used during the Civil Rights movement. They’ll say things such as “We need to ignore race and just look at the human being,” “I’m for equal rights and equal opportunity, therefore I’m against affirmative action since it looks at race,” “I don’t look at color and neither should you,” etc. Frank H. Wu talks much on this in his book Yellow (as do many other anti-racist activists) and the fallacies of these arguments. These arguments are being used to justify present day racial inequalities since many of these people (mainly whites) use the argument that race “needs to be ignored.” Yet ignoring race is ignoring the reality of the situation in America today: that reality is that race is still prevalent in society and that racism still exists in America today, in fact, economically, not much has changed since the Civil Rights movement and there has even been an increase in inequalities between people of color and whites. By “ignoring race” many whites hope people will ignore the realities of the “race problem” (as W.E.B. Du Bois coined it) and the fact that the white race has essentially built itself up by the historic, and present day, exploitation of people of color. “Color blind” racial ideology is yet another attack on people of color in this country.

The article I read was Neville, Helen A., et. al. “Color-Blind Racial Ideology and Psychological False Consciousness Among African Americans.” Journal of Black Psychology 31, no. 1 (Feb. 2005): 27-45.

The article opens up by saying:
There is now mounting documentation of the link between racial identity attitudes and mental health, generally suggesting that greater internalization of a positive racial identity is related to increased psychological well-being and more effective coping skills among African Americans (e.g., Goodstein & Ponterotto, 1997; Phelps, Taylor, & Gerard, 2001; Vandiver, Cross, Worrell, & Fhagen-Smith, 2002). Conversely, limited awareness of and comfort with one’s racial identity is related to lower psychological well being and greater psychological distress (e.g., Carter, 1991; Neville & Lilly, 2000; Pyant & Yanico, 1991).
As for the purpose of the paper:
One of the central purposes of this investigation is introduce a broader conceptual framework to understand multiple dimensions of racial beliefs among African Americans. We plan to provide empirical support for the proposed framework and to discuss the implications of the new model. To accomplish our task, we first introduce the interdisciplinary terms racial ideology (i.e., racial framework) and racial color blindness (i.e., distortion and minimization of racism) and then discuss the relationship between these concepts to the more familiar theories
of racial identity attitudes and the less familiar concept of false consciousness (i.e., working against oneself and/or collective interest). We envision our work contributing to the broader racial attitude literature within the field of African American psychology.
Racial ideology is defined as a:
world view readily found in the population, including sets of ideas and values [about race] that cohere, that are used to publicly justify political stances [especially as they relate to racialized matters], and that shape and are shaped by society. . . . Cognitively, ideology serves as a filter of what one “sees” and responds to [interpersonally and] in the social world.

Color-blind racial beliefs have received growing interdisciplinary attention as an emerging racial ideology that can be adopted by individuals across racial and ethnic groups. There are a number of conceptualizations of racial color blindness. If you ask a number of random individuals, “What does it mean to be color blind when it comes to race?” a common response might go something like, “To be color blind means to not see race; to move beyond others’ color or race and focus on the ‘content of their character.’” This response is an ideal to strive for if we, in fact, lived in a society that was equal and just. However, the United States is a racially stratified society in which Black and other racial minorities are systematically discriminated against, making it impossible to move beyond race (Appiah & Gutmann, 1996). Attending to these social realities, scholars have interjected a structural component to the term. Social scientists argue that a color-blind racial framework is a contemporary set of beliefs that serves to minimize, ignore, and/or distort the existence of race and racism; at its core is the belief that racism is a thing of the past and that race and racism do not play an important role in current social and economic realities (e.g., Bonilla-Silva, 2001, 2003; Carr, 1997).
On whites and color blind ideology:
On the basis of findings suggesting that White individuals, on average, adopt greater levels of color-blind racial beliefs compared to racial and ethnic minorities (e.g., Bonilla-Silva, 2001, 2003; Carr, 1997) and on the extant social inequalities literature (e.g.,Bobo&Kluegel, 1997),Neville,Worthington, and Spanierman (2001) speculated that to adopt a color-blind racial perspective means different things for Whites and racial and ethnic minorities. For Whites, color blindness serves to legitimize racism, which ultimately may serve to protect their group interest by maintaining certain racial privileges. In essence, the dominant U.S. racial ideology that denies or minimizes the fact that racial and ethnic minorities are victims of (and resist) systemic racism creates a climate that fosters victim blame attributions about racial disparities (Bobo & Kluegel, 1997) (e.g., “Blacks and Latinos don’t work hard enough and that is why they are overrepresented among the poor”). This, in turn, can influence societal and individual-level complacency in which the racial status quo is not challenged (or in some cases vociferously supported) and consequently perpetuates a system of inequality benefiting Whites and disadvantaging people of color.
As for Blacks and people of color who take up a color blind ideology:
Instead of working to protect one’s group interest, Neville et al. (2001) speculated that embracing a color-blind racial perspective among racial and ethnic minorities may actually serve to work against one’s individual and group interest. African Americans who deny the existence of racism may engage in a variety of behaviors that would potentially harm them individually, as well as Black Americans collectively, such as being blindsided by a racial incident because the person chose not to recognize race, and on a more collective level, working to rid race-targeted legislation designed to benefit racial minorities. Similar to adopting a color-blind racial perspective among Whites, these individual actions among African Americans may help to perpetuate racial inequalities in their immediate environments and in their broader communities. To date, there is little empirical literature in the field of psychology that provides data to empirically support these assertions.
Getting into the details of false consciousness the authors state:
The concept of false consciousness is the closest interdisciplinary term that we were able to identify that provides a theoretical framework to link the racial ideology of color blindness to the concept of group interest. According to Jost and Banaji (1994), false consciousness consists of “holding false beliefs that are contrary to one’s personal or social interest . . . [and] contribute[s] to the maintenance of the disadvantaged position of the self or the group” (p. 3). In essence, false consciousness reflects an internalized, culturally sanctioned belief that encourages individuals in a stratified society to adopt the viewpoint of those in power. Acceptance of the dominant viewpoint, in turn, serves to keep minorities in a subjugated position by justifying their oppression and thus encouraging inertia.
The aspects of false consciousness are:
(a) “failure to perceive injustice and disadvantage,” or denial of the ways in which groups face inequalities based on their minority status; (b) “fatalism,” or the belief that even if inequalities exist, there is nothing that can be done to eradicate the disparities; (c) rationalization of the social order or group-based inequalities; (d) blaming of minorities for their own oppression
(i.e., “false attribution of blame”); (e) identification with those who are in power, or internalization of oppression; and (f) “resistance to change,” or accepting and/or fighting to maintain the status quo.
...we have decided to qualify our usage of the term by using the more descriptive term psychological false consciousness (PFC). We acknowledge that structural issues (e.g., political economy and institutional racism) have a direct influence on individual-level racial ideology, and we recognize that the development of individual PFC is shaped by larger societal racial ideologies. However, we opted to use this more descriptive term to mark our focus on individual-level processes.
In the study that the authors were:
particularly interested in examining whether colorblind racial ideology was related to the following dimensions of PFC: social dominance orientation (i.e., justification of social roles), victim blame beliefs about social inequities (i.e., attribution of blame), and lower racial identity (i.e., internalized oppression).

...A secondary purpose of the studywas to explore whether theoretically relevant racial ideology types among African Americans could be identified using a multivariate categorical procedure.

We hypothesized that we would uncover at least two racial ideology types, with at least one profile representing a pattern consistent with high PFC; that is, a profile reflecting greater denial of racism and justification of and identification with a racially stratified society. And one profilewould reflect a more critical awareness of race, racism, and the racial structures in the United States.
After going over their methods and measurements, as well as their findings, the authors concluded:
Findings supported our research hypotheses indicating that color-blind racial beliefs would be significantly and positively related to three additional indicators of PFC. Specifically, the CoBRAS was related to each of the three dimensions of PFC operationalized by Jost (1995) and assessed in the current investigation. It appears that to adopt greater levels of color-blind racial beliefs in this sample was related to increased (a) blame of African Americans
themselves for economic and social disparities; (b) belief in a social hierarchical system that is justified by the existence of inferior and superior social groups; and, (c) internalization of racist stereotypes of Blacks. These findings support the link between color-blind racial ideology and PFC or the degree to which one adopts a cognitive framework that works against his or her own individual or social group interest.

Findings also suggested that participants in the PFC racial ideology type preferred to associate with White American friends in comparison to Black American friends, more so than the REC type. It may be that the combination of relatively higher internalized oppression and victim blame attributions play a greater role in one’s friendship preferences; both of these variables are more individual psychological constructs, whereas color-blind racial beliefs and social dominance focus on understanding the outside world. It seems logical that people who endorse greater Black inferiority beliefs would be likely to develop fewer meaningful friendships with other Blacks compared to individuals who have a more critical color consciousness (i.e., REC racial ideology type). Racial ideology thus was reflected in friendship patterns, with those having less racial consciousness establishing closer interracial, compared to intraracial, friendships. There is nothing inherently problematic with having more interracial friendships; however, this friendship pattern may mark a psychological and behavioral distancing from racially similar people. Clearly, additional research is needed to more fully understand the
development and consequences of interracial and intraracial friendship preferences.
The authors than cite law professor Drric Bell's book Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth:
We live in a system that espouses merit, equality, and a level playing field, but exalts those with wealth, power, and celebrity, however gained. Tremendous disparities in income and opportunity are generally accepted. Those disadvantaged by the system who should challenge the status quo are culturally programmed to believe that those whowork hard, make it; and for those who don’t make it, well that’s just the breaks. (p. 8)
The authors conclude:
This quote succinctly captures the essence of the PFC racial ideology type identified in this study and the perspective embraced by Mungin early in his career. Therapists can help to counter such ideologies in therapy by assisting clients to recognize inequalities, clarify values, and realize their power to make meaning and to challenge inequalities in their lives; these actions are designed to enhance the quality of life for the individual client and ultimately for those in his or her surroundings.